WASHINGTON — Canadian cannabis companies and their investors cheered a Senate committee’s decision Wednesday to push forward with measures designed to ease federal financing restrictions on their U.S. counterparts.
Executive members of the Senate banking committee voted 14-9 to send the SAFER Banking Act for a full vote on the Senate floor, although it was not immediately clear when that vote would take place.
The bill is just the latest iteration of multiple bipartisan efforts over the years to make it easier for cannabis companies that operate legally under state laws to access federally regulated financial services.
Advocates say the bill would make the industry, much of which is forced to operate on a cash-only basis in the U.S., safer and less prone to money laundering, tax fraud and armed robbery.
“A cash economy is great if you’re a criminal. It’s great if you want to rob stores,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), one of the bill’s co-sponsors and a longtime champion of cannabis finance reform.
During one particular 12-month period in Oregon, Merkley said, 153 separate robberies were reported—”basically one every other day”—by cannabis workers who were targeted because they might be carrying large sums of cash.
“None of these robberies had to happen if we weren’t in a cash world. And it’s not just Oregon. It’s happening in every state that has the cash economy.”
Canadian industry players, however, have been awaiting reforms for a very different reason: the prospect of unfettered expansion into a market 10 times the size of the one they have at home.
Wednesday’s vote “represents a milestone for cannabis reform in the United States,” said Omar Khan, senior vice-president of corporate and public affairs for Calgary-based retailer High Tide Inc.
“If passed into law, this bill will provide further legitimacy, improve employee and customer safety and offer much-needed guidance for commerce.”
Ontario-based Canopy Growth has been gradually laying the foundation for a foothold in the U.S. market while waiting for the laws to change, which is not a matter of if but of when, said CEO David Klein.
“Regulatory change will continue to be implemented incrementally,” Klein said in a statement. “Our novel Canopy USA strategy provides us with a U.S. platform of leading brands with exposure to the fastest growth markets now, while remaining poised for growth and a fast start following a federal permissibility event.”
Cannabis stocks on both sides of the border spiked briefly over the course of the hearing before settling back down to more modest levels—a reflection, perhaps, of the challenging political realities on Capitol Hill. Members of Congress are currently seized with yet another spending stalemate with the White House, with the prospect of a federal government shutdown looming past Saturday’s funding deadline.
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