An anti-drug group says that if Congress passes a bipartisan marijuana banking reform bill, it will lead to increased traffic fatalities and hospitalizations.
The non-profit Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) sent out a call-to-action email blast on Tuesday, encouraging its members to contact their federal representatives and senators with a pre-written letter opposing the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act.
It claimed in the email that the legislation—which would protect banks, credit unions and certain depository institutions from being penalized by federal regulators simply for working with state-licensed cannabis businesses—would “set a precedent to allow other federally illegal industries to gain access to the banking system.”
“Additionally, granting marijuana businesses access to the banking system will make it easier for them to do business, exacerbating the negative consequences of marijuana proliferation, including increased traffic fatalities, youth use rates, ER visits and hospitalizations,” CADCA, which previoulsy advocated against a congressional cannabis legalization bill last year, said in the prompt for supporters to contact lawmakers.
Following pushback from that effort, CADCA removed a page on its website that previously listed corporate partners like the NFL, Krispy Kreme and several pharmaceutical companies.
But it is evidently set on ramping up a campaign against another marijuana bill this session, making bold assertions about what it says would be detrimental consequences of the incremental banking reform.
Here’s the full text of the prewritten letter that CADCA is asking supporters to send to their House and Senate member:
“I am writing today to urge you to oppose the SAFE Banking Act. This legislation seeks to legitimize marijuana business operations that remain illegal under federal law. Granting marijuana businesses access to the banking system will vastly increase the access and availability of marijuana and high potency tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) products that have serious public health and safety consequences. The SAFE Banking Act would result in international drug cartels gaining an even stronger foothold in being able to launder money from other illegal activities. The SAFE Banking Act is an ill-advised measure as our nation grapples with the opioid, stimulant and vaping crises.
The negative consequences associated with the growth of the marijuana industry, including increased traffic fatalities, youth use rates, ER visits and hospitalizations would only be further exacerbated by this legislation. Please vote ‘No’ on the SAFE Banking Act.”
Freeing up cannabis industry access to the banking system would, of course, “make it easier for them to do business,” as the group notes. But advocates strongly contest CADCA’s argument that doing so would lead to the serious issues that it outlined.
David Culver, senior vice president of public affairs at the U.S. Cannabis Council, told Marijuana Moment that “CADCA’s slippery slope argument doesn’t add up.”
“The bill would make communities safer by decreasing cash on hand at dispensaries, which have been targeted in a string of armed robberies. It would also make the industry more diverse by opening new pathways to banking and financing,” he said. “The illicit market has no better friends than the prohibitionists at CADCA whose policies ensure widespread underage access to unregulated cannabis products. The only way to prevent underage access and ensure product safety is through legal, regulated markets.”
When it comes to impaired driving, studies on the impact of cannabis legalization on traffic safety is mixed. And with respect to youth use, multiple studies—including federally funded research—have found that teen consumption remains stable, or even declines, after states establish regulated adult-use markets.
“It must be frustrating to be so demonstrably wrong about cannabis as CADCA is and still have to fear monger in order to satisfy the bloodlust of a rapidly shrinking prohibitionist population,” BOWL PAC Founder Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment on Tuesday.
(Disclosure: Strekal supports Marijuana Moment’s work through a monthly pledge on Patreon.)
While CADCA’s claims are consistent with prohibitionist narratives around legalization, what the group is arguing here is that the modest proposal to permit banks to work with licensed cannabis businesses like any other traditional industry would have dramatic pubic safety ramifications.
Supporters of the SAFE Banking Act—which received an initial hearing in the Senate Banking Committee last month and is expected to receive a markup “soon” before potentially advancing to the floor—argue that the reform is actually a public safety imperative.
Without banking access, many cannabis businesses operate on a largely cash-only basis, which makes they uniquely vulnerable to crime. There are numerous examples of marijuana shops being robbed, occasionally with fatal consequences for the employees who work there.
“CADCA is correct that passage of SAFE Banking would make it easier (and safer) for licensed cannabis operators to do business. That’s one of the primary purposes of the legislation,” Morgan Fox, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Contrary to their overblown and often-refuted claims about the supposed harms that would cause, however, improving access to financial services will facilitate the positive benefits that regulated cannabis systems have over underground markets.”
“Opponents of sensible cannabis policy have been warning that the sky would fall since well before the first states made cannabis legal for adults, and more than a decade of evidence showing that these claims have been wildly exaggerated has not stopped prohibitionists from repeating them as gospel to argue against any and every proposal for positive reform, regardless of scope,” he said. “This fear-mongering rhetoric fails to recognize the harms associated with outdated prohibition laws and offers no constructive solutions for how cannabis should be dealt with other than criminalization and discrimination.”
Last year, CADCA’s Joy Sweeney also sought to block cannabis legalization initiatives from being placed on the statewide ballot in Missouri, without success. A judge dismissed the lawsuit, and Missouri voters ultimately approved legalization.
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While CADCA is working to defeat the cannabis banking bill, other advocates and lawmakers are pushing for various amendments to the legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and others have discussed plans to amend the legislation on the floor to adopt “critical” criminal justice provisions such as expungements for prior marijuana convictions, calling broader effort to repair the harms of the drug war a “moral responsibility” for Congress.
It’s unclear if members will move to make any revisions to the measure in committee at the markup, whenever that might be, but at least one Democratic senator on the panel has previewed changes he would like to make to the main banking provisions.
Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and some consumer groups have raised concerns that Section 10 of the bill could inadvertently limit the ability of regulators to take action against people exploiting banking services.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) himself previously said that he worried banking representatives were trying to use the legislation to “weaken bank rules” and “undermine” regulations.
Others have floated changes that they’d like to see incorporated into the cannabis bill such as expanding protections to free up marijuana industry access to all forms of financial services, including representation on major U.S. stock exchanges.
That request has faced some criticism from other advocates who say that would be an inappropriate move to help businesses while efforts to legalize marijuana stall in Congress.
A major cannabis lobbying firm apologized last month after sending a letter to Senate Banking Committee leadership concerning the banking bill that contained “inappropriate” references to investments from China in a “misguided attempt” to push for amendments expanding the legislation.
Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) also recently said that she wanted the SAFE Banking Act to pass with an amendment allowing cannabis businesses to access federal Small Business Administration (SBA) services.
In April, Schumer said that he was “disappointed” that a so-called SAFE Plus package of cannabis reform legislation didn’t advance last year, saying “we came close,” but “we ran into opposition in the last minute.” He said lawmakers will continue to “work in a bipartisan way” to get the job done.
The majority leader has been holding meetings with Democratic and Republican members in the early months of the new Congress to discuss cannabis reform proposals that might have bipartisan buy-in this year.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said recently that she’s “cautiously optimistic” that Congress can pass the SAFE Banking Act this session—but the prospects are complicated by Republican control of the House.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.