Safe Banking Act offers hope for diverse ownership in Illinois' booming cannabis industry

There are currently 30,000 employees in the state of Illinois who work in the multi-billion-dollar cannabis industry.

Yet for people of color, positions at the very top of the booming business are all too often out of reach. 

With the passage of the Safe Banking Act, federal lawmakers could level the playing field. 

The bi-partisan legislation co-sponsored by Illinois Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, among others, passed the House earlier this year and, barring the unforeseen, is poised to make it through the Senate this fall. 

If and when that happens, an industry stigmatized in no small part by marijuana’s classification as a Schedule 1 drug would become legitimized.

In a nutshell, the law would bar the federal government from penalizing lending institutions for providing banking services. Thereby, it will allow otherwise all-cash industry credit lines, checking accounts and for people of color the potential for ownership. 


Right now, only a small fraction of all cannabis-owned businesses in the U.S. are run by African Americans, Hispanics and Asians. 

Charlie Bachtell, Founder and CEO of Cresco Labs in Chicago, says that since recreational marijuana became legal in Illinois, the many challenges of the federal-to-state dynamic have been, "Like operating a business with one and a half hands tied behind your back."

Phil Flynn, Senior Analyst at Price Futures Group and a business correspondent for Fox, says there has been a double standard when it comes to states selling cannabis and the government looking the other way. 

"The downfall about supporting this act and supporting cannabis in general—it’s either legal or it’s illegal, you can’t have it both ways and these companies should have full access to the banking system," said Flynn.

Bachtell is confident the Safe Banking Act will pass in the Senate, however, should it stall, the impact on minority entrepreneurs would be dire.

"You’re going to be in a scenario where if you had social equity initiatives—if you want to diversify the industry, that won’t happen," said Bachtell.