Image: Cresco Labs CEO Charlie Bachtell speaks in 2019 at the launch of an incubator program designed to help social equity applicants get into the cannabis industry. | Cresco photo
As state lawmakers continue to wrangle a bill to expand cannabis licenses that would benefit social equity candidates, a Chicago CEO is working on the federal front to bring about equity in a different way.
Charlie Bachtell, the co-founder and CEO of Cresco Labs, is chairman of the National Cannabis Roundtable, a trade organization and lobbying group that’s working behind the scenes on behalf of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act.
The measure would allow legal cannabis companies to access traditional banking services they’re generally barred from because pot remains illegal on the federal level, enabling them and their customers to use credit instead of operating cash-only businesses. Cannabis companies have long called attention to safety concerns of only dealing in cash.
The SAFE Banking Act also would allow new small business owners in the industry to have access to capital. “Not having access to traditional banking is a huge barrier to entry for your small business owner — especially for those negatively impacted by the war in drugs,” Bachtell told Playbook. “It’s the best way to make sure they’re part of the future.”
Allowing access to banking services would end roadblocks that cannabis companies face in trying to rent space. As it is now, without institutional financing, they’re often turned down.
And it would allow cannabis company employees to secure personal mortgages. They’re now often rejected because banks won’t count their income as legitimate.
Bachtell says he and others on the Roundtable are focused on educating more than anything. The new and growing industry still is shrouded in a myth that it’s run by a crowd of tie-dyed T-shirt-wearing hippies, instead of the lab-coated scientists who produce cannabis products.
Much of the Roundtable’s work, Bachtell said, includes “making sure that regulators and legislators know that we’re professional, that it’s a professional industry developing, and it’s something they can get behind and support.”
The SAFE Banking Act has easily passed the U.S. House before, so the action is in the Senate, where Bachtell hopes it will get a nod now that Democrats are in control.
With 30 bi-partisan cosponsors, “it has a better-than-not chance of actually being approved,” Bachtell said, calling it an “important point in U.S. history.”