Marijuana banking reform progresses in Congress thanks to old trick, but Senate passage unlikely

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Significant federal marijuana reform progressed Thursday thanks to an old congressional trick – incorporating unrelated matters into a larger bill and for passage – when the United States House of Representatives approved the granting of legal protection for banks working with cannabis companies under the annual defense spending bill.

The so-called Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) banking law – which would allow cannabis companies in the 36 states with retail dispensaries to pay taxes with a check and guarantee loans and allow customers to use cash. debit cards – passed the House for the fifth time. late Thursday, when key elements of the bill were included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

If passed by the Senate and enacted by President Joe Biden, federal banking regulators would be prohibited from punishing banks for dealing with the marijuana industry, and the products of “legitimate cannabis” companies would not be. not considered to be “proceeds of illegal activity” and would therefore be exempt from anti-money laundering laws.

This would mean the end of the risky and heavy “all cash” life that most cannabis companies are forced to live.

Advocates say equal access to banking services is required for black and brown people hardest hit by the war on drugs, who have so far been largely excluded from the multibillion-dollar cannabis industry. dollars, to finally take advantage of the economic opportunities of marijuana.

But moving to the United States Senate, where lawmakers want the banks to be built into a bill along with other marijuana reform measures and not military spending, seems highly unlikely.

Marijuana banking reform is currently not included in the Senate version of the NDAA. And some crucial marijuana legalization advocates have indicated that they would rather embrace cannabis reform on their own and combine banking reform with social equity measures, including the removal of past marijuana arrests.

On Wednesday, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), one of the three main sponsors of a bill to legalize marijuana currently lying fallow in the Senate, says POLITICO that using the defense spending bill to pass the banks “undermines the ability to achieve comprehensive marijuana reform and the kinds of things that are more difficult to do like deleting people’s records” .

The marijuana industry has been calling for banking and tax reform for years, but it is only recently that cannabis has become increasingly dominated by large, publicly traded companies, the so-called “multi-state operators”. (Or MSO), some of which have valuations of over $ 1 billion.

According to Booker, adopting banking reform alone would satisfy one of the main demands of these large cannabis companies, which could then stay on the sidelines or even advocate against other marijuana reforms that help small businesses.

“I think it’s really important that we put the SAFE Banking Act in place, but doing it without doing other things makes other things even more difficult to do,” he told POLITICO. “You let them, their interests, get away with it and all the other equity issues suffer. “

Although a review of comments from other Senators suggests that SAFE Banking has little to no chance of sneaking through NDAA, Booker’s analysis has drawn a harsh rebuttal from lawyers, including Amber Littlejohn, Director. Executive of the Minority Cannabis Business Association.

Access to capital is the “number one” barrier for small business owners, including the BIPOC folks, to enter the marijuana industry, Littlejohn tweeted. Failure of banking reform – under the NDAA or some other bill – will mean fewer people of color in the industry, she said.

The matter will not be decided until next week at the earliest. The Senate was not scheduled to sit on Friday.

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