The attorneys general of 21 states sent a letter to congressional leaders on Monday, voicing support for a bipartisan bill that would shield state-legal marijuana programs from federal interference.
Led by Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, along with the top law enforcement officials in New York and Nevada, the letter emphasizes that the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act would enable cannabis businesses to access financial services, increasing transparency and mitigating risks associated with operating on a largely cash-only basis.
Passing the STATES Act would “lift the cloud of regulatory uncertainty that hangs over legitimate businesses operating in most states in the union and in several territories” and, thereby, “reduce the industry’s reliance on cash, bring greater clarity to the industry, prevent crime by limiting opportunities for potentially violent robberies and thefts, and ensure that each state has the freedom to determine policy in this area,” the state officials wrote.
Current federal law prevents banks from providing services legal #cannabis businesses—an industry expected to generate revenue between $50-$80 billion over the next 10 years.
Forcing these businesses to operate only in cash leaves communities vulnerable to violence and crime.
— AG Karl A. Racine (@AGKarlRacine) September 23, 2019
Attorneys general from Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington also signed the letter.
“Forcing legal cannabis businesses to operate only in cash leaves communities vulnerable to violence and crime,” Racine said in a press release. “Our bipartisan coalition is urging Congress to pass the STATES Act because it would allow those in the legal cannabis industry to access the U.S. banking system, provide long-overdue transparency and accountability, and deter criminal activity like robbery and money laundering.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James said that “as the marketplace for legal cannabis-related business evolves, federal regulations governing the banking system must keep pace.”
“It’s not only commonsense to fold a growing multi-billion-dollar industry under the regulated banking sector, but it’s also a matter of public safety. With such widespread, bipartisan support, there is no reason this bill shouldn’t pass without delay,” she said.
In a tweet, Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford said that “each state knows its industry and needs best, and that’s why we’re urging Congress to pass legislation that will allow NV and other states to determine the best approach for regulating cannabis.”
Each state knows its industry and needs best, and that's why we're urging Congress to pass legislation that will allow NV and other states to determine the best approach for regulating cannabis.
— Aaron D. Ford (@AaronDFordNV) September 23, 2019
California Attorney General Becerra said in a press release that “it’s time for our federal laws relating to cannabis to enter the 21st century.”
“A large majority of states have now legalized the use of marijuana in some form. But federal inaction has accelerated concerns about public safety, uncertainty and disruptions to licensed businesses, and ultimately the respect for states’ rights,” he said. “The STATES Act is a promising step in the right direction that would safeguard licensed businesses that play by the rules in what has become a more than $8 billion industry.”
Despite the focus on banking in the letter, the intent of the STATES Act isn’t exclusively about providing marijuana businesses with access to financial services. That represents one potential benefit for the industry, but the bill is generally about offering states broader protections so they can establish their own cannabis systems without fear of reprisal from the Justice Department.
A separate piece of legislation—the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act—is narrowly tailored to freeing up banks to work with marijuana firms. Racine and 37 other attorneys general wrote a letter supporting that bill in May, and it is now heading to the House floor for a vote on Wednesday.
“Ultimately, legislation like the proposed STATES Act recognizes the reality on the ground: across the country, state governments, America’s ‘laboratories of democracy,’ have been working toward those cannabis policies that work best for them,” the new letter states. “Against this backdrop, the [Controlled Substance Act’s] outdated restrictions imperil states’ rights, and in the process, impose serious regulatory and public safety consequences.”
“As law enforcement officers and as lawyers representing our states and territories, we believe the time has come to do better. We urge the adoption of legislation like the proposed STATES Act,” the officials said.
Read the full STATES Act letter from attorneys general below:
This story was update to include comment from James and Ford.
Photo courtesy of Nicholas C. Morton.
Trade Associations And Civil Rights Groups Send Mixed Messages On Marijuana Banking To Senate
A coalition of trade associations sent a letter to Senate Banking Committee leadership on Thursday, urging a vote on legislation to protect financial institutions that service state-legal marijuana businesses.
But those senators are also feeling pressure from leading civil rights groups like the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, which sent an earlier letter insisting that they not allow cannabis banking to detract from more comprehensive reform that addresses social equity.
The organizations involved in the latest letter—including the American Bankers Association and Credit Union National Association—said that advancing the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act or similar legislation is pivotal to ensuring that stakeholders receive needed clarity and are shielded from being penalized by federal regulators.
The letter, addressed to Banking Chair Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH), emphasized the bipartisan nature of the House passage of the bill in September and the growing movement at the state level to legalize cannabis for medical or recreational purposes.
“Our organizations support an initial legislative step that allows the legal cannabis industry into the banking system,” the groups, which also include the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, International Council of Shopping Centers and National Association of REALTORS, wrote. “Ultimately, protecting law-abiding financial institutions and ancillary businesses from their currently untenable position and addressing increasing public safety concerns.”
As more states reform their marijuana laws, however, “distribution, sale, possession, research, transaction, housing, employment, and a broader landscape of cannabis is becoming increasingly problematic” for stakeholders under federal prohibition.
“Ultimately, this creates more legal and security concerns that impact the operations and safety of businesses and consumers,” they said. “Finally, the lack of an available safe harbor for cannabis will continue to challenge the full adoption and deployment of the legal hemp and CBD products market in the U.S. due to the inextricable link between hemp and cannabis.”
“To resolve this, we urge the Committee to vote on the SAFE Banking Act or similar measures. Such measures are meant to create a safe harbor for depository institutions that provide a financial product or service to businesses in a state permitting the use of cannabis. A safe harbor will enable law enforcement and states to effectively monitor and regulate businesses while simultaneously bringing billions into the regulated banking sector.”
12 groups including ABA just wrote @MikeCrapo @SenSherrodBrown @senatemajldr @SenSchumer urging a vote on the #SAFEBanking Act. It's time to end the legal limbo over banking cannabis in the growing number of states where it's legal. Read the letter: https://t.co/1529vIHawq
— American Bankers Association (@ABABankers) December 12, 2019
The letter, also signed by Americans for Prosperity and R Street, recognizes that creating a federal regulatory scheme for marijuana will take time but says that the SAFE Banking Act represents “a critical first step to ensure that legal cannabis marketplaces are safe, legal, and transparent.”
Crapo has said that he’s interested in holding a vote on resolving the cannabis banking issue in his panel before the year’s end, but so far nothing has been scheduled. The chairman told Marijuana Moment in earlier interviews that there are several changes to the House-passed bill that he’d like to see but that he’s worried impeachment proceedings against the president will interfere with plans to hold a vote.
All that said, pressure from civil rights advocacy groups could complicate congressional efforts to get the banking bill approved. In October, several organizations including the ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch and Center for American Progress sent a letter to Senate leadership, as well as Crapo and Brown, demanding that “marijuana legislation considered in the Senate include provisions that will guarantee equity in the industry.”
The letter, which doesn’t appear to have been previously reported and was obtained by Marijuana Moment, states that while the coalition agrees the SAFE Banking Act “is an incremental step toward rolling back the federal prohibition of marijuana, it fails to help communities that have been historically and disproportionately devastated by United States’ punitive drug laws.”
“As the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs considers similar legislation, we insist that the legislation include provisions that ensure equity in the marijuana industry by creating opportunities for individuals who have been prohibited from this growing business either by legal or financial means,” the letter, which was also signed by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and National Association of Social Workers, states.
“Indeed, this Congress has shown it understands the economic impact of legalization. But while progress on the business side of legalization is promising, it is not sufficient. Federal marijuana legislation must be comprehensive and lead with equity, addressing past and current harms to communities of color and low-income communities who bore the brunt of the failed war on drugs. We demand that any marijuana reform or legalization bill considered by the Senate] include robust provisions addressing equity. More than simply adding equity provisions to bills that address industry concerns, we need comprehensive reform that deschedules marijuana and addresses the inequities and harms continually inflicted by the failed war on drugs.”
In other words, the groups are insisting on broad reform prior to a vote on a bill viewed as largely beneficial to the cannabis industry—similar to a request they made of House members prior to the legislation’s passage in the chamber.
Read the marijuana banking letters from the trade associations and civil rights groups below:
GOP Congressman Knocks His Party For Failing To Pass Marijuana Reform
A Republican congressman says that whichever party is responsible for passing federal marijuana reform will “instantly” shoot up in the polls, while lamenting the fact that the GOP failed to do so when they controlled the House.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), a vocal advocate for hemp, was asked by Fox Business host Kennedy on Wednesday whether cannabis should be rescheduled under federal law.
“Absolutely,” he said. “The first party that does this—and I don’t understand why either party won’t do it—is going instantly gain 10 points in the general poll on which party versus the other.”
“We should have done it when we were in the majority,” he added. “The liberals should be asking Pelosi why she hasn’t put it on the floor yet.”
The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation last month to end federal marijuana prohibition, but it hasn’t yet been scheduled for floor action.
Massie made similar points during an interview with Marijuana Moment earlier this year, stating that if Republicans had advanced states’ rights-focused marijuana legislation, “I think we might still be in the majority.”
Of course, while Massie has supported legislation to allow states to set their own cannabis policies without federal intervention, as well as other more modest reform measures such as protecting banks that service marijuana businesses, he’s so far declined to cosponsor any bills that seek to deschedule cannabis.
The congressman has also expressed interest in changing federal gun control laws to allow cannabis consumers to purchase firearms.
Though it’s not clear exactly how much of a boost either party would get by passing a marijuana reform bill, a Pew poll released last month does show that there’s majority support for legalization among those who lean Republican (55 percent) as well those who lean Democratic (78 percent).
Photo courtesy of YouTube/Rep. Massie.
State Department Warns Travelers About Flying With Cannabis Oil Internationally
The U.S. State Department is warning international holiday travelers that while hemp-derived CBD might be legal in the U.S., it can land you in trouble if you take it certain places abroad.
“Make sure your gift isn’t a fa la la la la la la la la fail,” the department said in a tweet on Thursday. “Bringing along gifts like drones, CBD oils, and firearms can land you in trouble in foreign countries. Research what is and isn’t allowed before you travel.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Flickr/DHS.