In a groundbreaking development for the cannabis industry, the eagerly awaited Secure And Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act has cleared the Senate floor, ushering in a new era of optimism for cannabis businesses and advocates alike.
As the cannabis legislative landscape continues to evolve, gaining insight from those at the forefront is more crucial than ever. The Emerald engaged in a candid conversation with Bryan Barash, Vice President of External Affairs and Deputy General Counsel at Dutchie, a point-of-sale software system serving the cannabis dispensary retail sector.
With his extensive involvement in cannabis advocacy and industry reform as a member of the Coalition for Cannabis Scheduling Reform and Secretary for the US Cannabis Council, Bryan offers a unique perspective on the transformative impact of the SAFER Banking Act and its pivotal role in shaping the future of the cannabis market.
Emerald Magazine: Bryan, thank you for being available to discuss the recent developments with the SAFER Banking Act. Can you provide an overview of what makes this act significant for the cannabis sector?
Bryan Barash: The SAFER Banking Act is a game-changer for the cannabis sector because it provides financial institutions with a safe harbor from federal penalties when serving state-legal cannabis enterprises. This means these businesses can finally have normalized access to financial services like bank accounts, loans, and credit cards. It also enhances safety with reduced cash transactions, easier access to loans and growth investment, streamlined regulatory oversight, and potential for job creation and business expansion.
EM: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer recently made comments about the SAFE Banking Act. How do you interpret these comments, and what implications might they have for the future of cannabis banking?
BB: Senator Schumer has shared his plans to swiftly bring the SAFER Banking bill to the Senate floor for a vote. This is promising news, highlighting the bill’s importance to the Senate Majority Leader, who essentially sets the Senate’s agenda. Moreover, he’s shown interest in bolstering the bill with social equity measures, like expungements.
EM: Dutchie is a leading cannabis technology and payments company serving thousands of dispensaries. From your perspective, how does the current state of cannabis banking impact dispensaries, and what challenges do they face?
BB: The current state of cannabis banking creates a number of challenges for dispensaries. Without broad access to banking and cashless payments, dispensaries struggle to access capital, retain staff, invest in growth, keep employees safe, and compete with both businesses that have full financial services access and the illicit market.
EM: As Co-Chair of the Coalition for Cannabis Scheduling Reform and Secretary for the US Cannabis Council, you are deeply involved in industry advocacy. How does the SAFE Banking Act align with broader goals for cannabis reform?
BB: The SAFE Banking Act might not be the all-in-one solution for cannabis reform, but it’s definitely a critical step forward. Not only would it help reduce the stigma around cannabis, but it also champions equity, social justice, small business owners, and offers potential for job creation and economic uplift. Plus, it would be a meaningful step towards Congress recognizing the cannabis sector, setting the stage for broader reforms down the road.
EM: The SAFE Banking Act has seen positive developments, but what hurdles or challenges do you anticipate it might face as it moves toward a full Senate floor vote?
BB: While SAFER passed out of the Senate Banking Committee by a 14-9 vote, it still needs 60 votes to pass the Senate and there are still a number of senators who are opposed to cannabis legalization. Additionally, SAFER may have to compete with other more pressing legislative priorities in the Senate.
EM: From a technology and e-commerce standpoint, how does Dutchie contribute to addressing some of the challenges faced by dispensaries in the current banking environment?
BB: Dutchie is the premier technology platform supporting thousands of cannabis dispensaries with point-of-sale and e-commerce, enhancing their business efficiency and profitability. Dutchie offers integrated payment processing, insurance, and compliance support, aiding dispensaries in navigating the intricate and constantly evolving cannabis regulatory landscape.
EM: Given the dynamic nature of cannabis legislation, how does Dutchie navigate and adapt its services to align with evolving regulatory changes in the industry?
BB: Dutchie is always planning for the future while innovating to provide the best technology available in the current regulatory environment. That means providing cashless payments that are future-proofed for normalized banking while currently providing solutions that are reliable now – like DutchiePay, our dependable ACH solution available both in-store and online.
EM: As someone deeply involved in industry coalitions, what role do you see technology companies like Dutchie playing in shaping the future of cannabis policy and regulations?
BB: Dutchie is proud to be at the forefront of the cannabis industry as a leader in both the US Cannabis Council and the Coalition for Cannabis Scheduling Reform. These organizations champion policies that foster the growth and evolution of the cannabis sector. Dutchie’s core principle is our customers’ success is our success, we grow together. As a fintech e-commerce platform collaborating with thousands of dispensaries, Dutchie is in a prime position to share valuable data and insights while bringing the voices of small dispensary owners to Capitol Hill when they may not have the time and resources to do so themselves. This helps policymakers and regulators craft informed and effective policies and regulations.
EM: Looking ahead, what do you believe are the next steps for the cannabis industry, particularly in terms of banking reform, and how can stakeholders collaborate to achieve positive outcomes?
BB: The SAFE Banking Act is the most likely piece of cannabis legislation to pass Congress in the near future. However, it is not a comprehensive cannabis reform bill and once enacted, some financial institutions may still be reluctant to provide banking services to cannabis businesses. We expect that rescheduling and further administrative guidance can also be levers that could make financial institutions more comfortable working with the cannabis industry. Stakeholders can expand access to banking services for cannabis businesses by advocating for federal policy reform, as well as educating financial institutions about the legal cannabis industry and by collaborating with policymakers and regulators to advance policies reducing risk.
EM: Thank you for your time.
Looking ahead, the cannabis industry’s next steps, particularly in terms of banking reform, remain dynamic. While the SAFE Banking Act represents a significant milestone, it is not a comprehensive reform bill. Additional steps, such as rescheduling and further administrative guidance, are needed to make financial institutions more comfortable working with the cannabis industry.
To achieve positive outcomes, stakeholders must continue advocating for federal policy reform, educating financial institutions about the legal cannabis industry, and collaborating with policymakers and regulators to reduce risk. In doing so, they can further expand access to banking services for cannabis businesses and continue to shape the future of the cannabis industry.