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Cannabis Banking Defeat In Congress Opens Opportunity For Equity-Centered Approach (Op-Ed)



“It’s important to me that we get this right and truly help historically excluded business owners not just in theory, but in reality.”

By Dasheeda Dawson, Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition

Last month, congressional leaders eliminated cannabis banking provisions that had been attached to a large-scale defense bill by the House.

Supporters of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in its current form were upset, with many insisting that SAFE would close the gap between the predominantly white-owned multistate operators (MSOs) and small minority entrepreneurs who lack access to private equity. They also argue that it would help prevent robberies of small cannabis businesses.

However, the language of the bill as currently drafted paints a different reality and stands to give more power to MSOs with little evidence it will deter crime. The good news is that with a new year and new congressional session, we can work together to push for a fresh start in Congress that makes the bill more equitable, enhances safety and positions disadvantaged small businesses to truly benefit from expanded banking services.

As a Black woman and chair of Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition, it’s important to me that we get this right and truly help historically excluded business owners not just in theory, but in reality.

On the surface, it would seem that creating access to commercial lending, as SAFE promises to do, would benefit emerging Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC)-owned businesses. After all, many have little-to-no access to private equity funding while MSOs are generally well-positioned to obtain capital. The rationale is that equity-designated businesses would gain access to funding under SAFE, serving to help level the playing field. But this superficial analysis does not examine the position banks are most likely to adopt, and whether banking rules will actually enable disadvantaged businesses to successfully compete alongside MSOs.

Under SAFE, marijuana would remain a Schedule I substance. The bill does not change the existing laws, instead creating a “safe harbor” for banks willing to work with marijuana businesses, despite the latter operating in clear violation of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

This distinction is important because the armies of lawyers employed by commercial lending institutions are fastidious about the amount of risk they are willing to accept in order to protect the entirety of the lending institution. As long as marijuana remains federally illegal and potential risks exist for banks working with businesses violating the CSA, the decision-makers at many banks will remain adverse to lending to all but the most well-established, “credit-worthy” marijuana businesses (in other words, the MSOs).

A commercial lending expert recently outlined the decision-making process that many banks would take under SAFE. Only cannabis businesses that meet steep requirements would likely get commercial loans under the bill. Judging by this criteria, most diversely-owned businesses are unlikely to meet those requirements. In 2021, the Federal Reserve released a report indicating that Black and Latino-owned non-cannabis businesses are half as likely to be approved for a loan compared to white-owned businesses. Black and Latino business owners with low risk (i.e. good credit) received approvals at the same rate as white business owners with medium-to-high risk (i.e. fair credit).

It’s fair to assume that increased access to banking services and capital for the cannabis industry will most likely not translate into the critical funding necessary for social equity operators to compete.

It’s undeniably tragic when businesses are robbed. Both merchandise and cash-on-hand appear to make cannabis businesses more vulnerable. However, there is little evidence that the ability to accept credit or debit card purchases deters crime. Notably, Apple and jewelry stores have been targets in a string of recent high-profile robberies despite having banking access and credit or debit card processing. Multiple studies have also shown that licensed marijuana businesses do not increase crime, making it clear that, in general, these businesses are not more likely to be targets of robberies merely because of the lack of banking or merchant processing.

Perhaps for some cannabis leaders or elected officials, the trade-off for transactional checking accounts with minimal fees for minority and women-owned businesses while granting access to eight-figure commercial loans to predominantly white, male-owned MSOs seems worthwhile. However, based on my experience at Fortune 100 corporations and now as a cannabis regulator, it is clear that if all of the MSOs are supercharged with additional banking services, including commercial lending resources, this exponential capital increase could drive small operators out of the industry.

Being forced to compete against MSOs that realize even greater competitive advantages under the current iteration of SAFE would be more devastating to the individual business and the community of entrepreneurs that social equity initiatives are intended to support.

By comparison, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act would remove marijuana from the CSA, ending federal criminalization once and for all. That means banks could no longer be contentious about the cannabis risk-tolerance question.

However, in lieu of the supposed all-or-nothing approach, advocates should be aggressively pushing for improvements to ensure that historically excluded businesses are better able to obtain commercial loans under a safe harbor scenario. That starts with protections for Community Financial Depository Institutions (CFDIs) and Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs) as well as provisions to prevent discriminatory lending practices and incentivize loan availability for disadvantaged cannabis businesses.

There’s a significant chance that if the SAFE Banking Act is amended to include equitable banking provisions, it would lose much of its Republican support. The fact that Republicans could take over one or both chambers of Congress next year only underscores the need to add social equity to SAFE now while there is still political opportunity. We also must amplify viable solutions at the state and local levels currently addressing the challenges that SAFE is anticipated to resolve. This includes using cannabis tax revenue to provide low or no-cost capital as well as much-needed emergency relief to struggling cannabis businesses.

The removal of SAFE from the the National Defense Authorization Act gives us the opportunity to reset the discussion and to make this bill truly beneficial for those who need access to capital the most. While many criticized the efforts to hold the line in New York for equity-centered cannabis legalization, passage of the MRTA last year, one of the country’s most equitable approaches to legal cannabis, has rendered those criticisms a distant memory.

Here’s to SAFE banking undergoing a similar evolution in this new year.

Dasheeda Dawson serves as chair of the Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition and is Portland, Oregon’s cannabis program supervisor overseeing all regulatory, licensing, compliance and equity initiatives for the city’s legal industry.

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Bipartisan Pennsylvania Senators File Bill To Let Medical Marijuana Patients Grow Their Own Plants



A bipartisan group of Pennsylvania senators introduced a bill on Thursday that would allow medical marijuana patients to cultivate their own plants for personal use.

Sens. Dan Laughlin (R) and Sharif Street (D) first announced their intent to file the legislation in November, arguing that it is a necessary reform to ensure patient access by giving people a less costly alternative to buying from dispensaries.

Registered patients who are 21 and older, and who have been residents of the state for at least 30 days, could grow up to six plants in an “enclosed and locked space” at their residence, according to the text of the bill. They would be allowed to buy cannabis seeds from licensed dispensaries


In an earlier cosponsorship memo for the new home grow bill, the lawmakers said that letting patients cultivate their own medicine would “help ease the cost and accessibility burdens for this important medicine.”

The new legislation has three other initial cosponsors in addition to Street and Laughlin.

Street had attempted to get the reform enacted as an amendment to an omnibus bill this summer, but it did not advance.

The senators argue that patients in particular are deserving of a home grow option, as some must currently travel hours to visit a licensed dispensary and there are financial burdens that could be alleviated if patients could grow their own plants for medicine.

Late last year, Laughlin and Street also unveiled a separate adult-use legalization proposal that faces significant challenges in the GOP-controlled legislature. And Street is behind another recent cannabis measure to provide state-level protections to banks and insurers that work with cannabis businesses.

Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

In the interim, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), who is running for U.S. Senate this year, said one of his key goals in his final year in office is to ensure that as many eligible people as possible submit applications to have the courts remove their cannabis records and restore opportunities to things like housing, student financial aid and employment through an expedited petition program.

Pennsylvania lawmakers could also take up more modest marijuana reform proposals like a bill filed late last year to expand the number of medical marijuana cultivators in the state, prioritizing small farms to break up what she characterized as a monopoly or large corporations that’s created supply problems.

Rep. Amen Brown (D) separately announced his intent to file a legalization bill that he’ll be working on with Sen. Mike Regan (R), who expressed his support for the policy change a day earlier.

Additionally, another pair of state lawmakers—Reps. Jake Wheatley (D) and Dan Frankel (D)—formally unveiled a legalization bill they’re proposing last year.

Philadelphia voters also approved a referendum on marijuana legalization in November that adds a section to the city charter saying that “the citizens of Philadelphia call upon the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the Governor to pass legislation that will decriminalize, regulate, and tax the use, and sale to adults aged 21 years or older, of cannabis for non-medical purposes.”

Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said last year that marijuana legalization was a priority as he negotiated the annual budget with lawmakers. However, his formal spending request didn’t contain legislative language to actually accomplish the cannabis policy change.

The governor, who signed a medical cannabis expansion bill in June, has repeatedly called for legalization and pressured the Republican-controlled legislature to pursue the reform since coming out in favor of the policy in 2019. Shortly after he did that, a lawmaker filed a separate bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.

A survey from Franklin & Marshall College released last year found that 60 percent of Pennsylvania voters back adult-use legalization. That’s the highest level of support for the issue since the firm started polling people about it in 2006.

An attempt to provide protections for Pennsylvania medical marijuana patients from being charged with driving under the influence was derailed in the legislature last year, apparently due to pushback by the state police association.

Nebraska Activists Say New GOP Medical Marijuana Bill Is A ‘Poison Pill’ Meant To Detract From Ballot Efforts

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Minnesota Democratic Leaders Preview Marijuana Legalization Plan For 2022



Minnesota Democratic leaders are preparing for another push to legalize marijuana this session, with the sponsor of the House-passed reform bill saying he will be reworking the legislation in an effort to build further support—though it continues to face an uphill climb in the GOP-controlled Senate.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) and Senate Minority Leader Melisa Franzen (D) discussed the legislative strategy during a roundtable event hosted by the Minnesota Hemp Growers Cooperative on Wednesday.

Winkler said that his bill, which moved through 12 committees before being approved on the House floor last year, is the “product of hundreds of hours of work involving thousands of people’s input, countless hearings and public listening sessions—but it is not a perfect bill.”

“As we look ahead to this session…our goal is to go back and reexamine provisions of the bill,” he said. Licensing structures, public safety and substance misuse concerns are among the issues that lawmakers will be looking at to improve upon the legislation.

“We will be working with our colleagues in the Minnesota Senate,” Winkler added. “We’re interested in pursuing legalization to make sure that the bill represents senators’ priorities for legalization as well.”

The leader said that “any effort this year that would be successful would require Republican support as well.”

But while advocates are encouraged to hear that the House may again vote to pass the legalization legislation, the Senate minority leader tempered expectations about the bill’s prospects in her Republican-run chamber.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a path to legalization this year in the Minnesota Senate,” Franzen said. “It’s controlled by the Republican party, and they have there’s a few members who are really adamantly opposed to legalization.”

Gov. Tim Walz (D) is supportive of cannabis legalization, and while the broad reform didn’t advance last session, he did sign a bill to expand the state’s medical marijuana program, in part by allowing patients to access smokable cannabis products.

Winkler said on Wednesday that “it was because of the work done” by advocates on legalization that put pressure on Senate Republicans to advance that legislation.

Another cannabis issue playing out in Minnesota concerns CBD. The state agriculture department and pharmacy board have increased enforcement against the sale of the non-intoxicating cannabinoid in recent months, prompting calls for legislative reform.

Winkler said that the political dynamics around legalization that led to the expansion of the state’s medical cannabis program will be “a template for how we will address challenges with CBD this year.”

“My staff is working very closely with advocates, working with senators, working with other House members to get in a repair for the CBD industry, and I have every confidence that we will be able to do that with your help,” he said.

A poll conducted by Minnesota lawmakers that was released last year found that 58 percent of residents are in favor of legalization. That’s a modest increase compared to the chamber’s 2019 survey, which showed 56 percent support.

Winkler said in 2020 that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.

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Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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Nebraska Activists Say New GOP Medical Marijuana Bill Is A ‘Poison Pill’ Meant To Detract From Ballot Efforts



A Republican Nebraska senator introduced a bill on Thursday that ostensibly seeks to legalize medical marijuana in the state—but activists have raised concerns that the restrictive measure may be an attempt to subvert an effort to pass even broader patient protections on the 2022 ballot.

Sen. Mike Groene (R) filed the legislation, which would allow certain patients to buy and possess cannabis oils, pills and up to two and a half ounces of flower at a limited number of dispensaries. Smoking or inhaling marijuana would be banned, however, as would making edibles—so it’s not clear how patients would consume the flower they could possess.

But the main problem is, the bill would maintain that cultivating marijuana in Nebraska for commercial or personal use is illegal, meaning dispensaries wouldn’t even have a legal means of obtaining cannabis products for patients.

The bill is also severely restrictive in terms of who would qualify for cannabis. It would only permit access to people with stage IV cancer, uncontrolled seizures, severe muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy or a terminal illness with less than a one year probable life expectancy.

It’s being backed by the Nebraska chapter of the prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), leading some advocates to suspect that the lack of cultivation provisions is designed to be a “poison pill” while misleading voters into thinking that there is a good faith effort to legalize medical cannabis legislatively.

“This appears to be a political stunt,” Jared Moffat, state campaigns manager at the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release. “Opponents of medical cannabis know there is a viable campaign to put medical cannabis on the ballot, and they know Nebraskans will overwhelmingly support that effort.”

“This is an attempt to take our focus away from that,” he said. “But it won’t succeed because it’s clear that this proposal is not a good faith effort to find some middle ground on the issue.”

The bill comes as Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana (NMM) continues to work to collect signatures for a pair of medical cannabis legalization initiatives that advocates hope to place on the November ballot. They have until July to collect 87,000 valid signatures to qualify each of their complementary measures.

Activists with the group collected enough signatures to qualify a medical marijuana legalization measure for the 2020 ballot, but the state Supreme Court invalidated it, finding that the proposal violated the single-subject rule for citizen initiatives.

Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Now this legislation from Groene is entering the mix for the 2022 session. And SAM Nebraska co-chair John Kuehn told The Lincoln Journal-Star that it’s “a good faith effort and we are willing to look at this as an acceptable alternative to creating a marijuana industry in the state of Nebraska.”

While advocates aren’t necessarily buying that argument given that it would authorize dispensaries without providing the ability to cultivate marijuana products, some like NMM co-chair Sen. Anna Wishart (D) are willing to work with the senator to get the bill into a more acceptable shape for patients.

“It would be the status quo,” Wishart said. “I want a safe system, but there are practical realities patients are living with every day. No one wants a system that doesn’t work.”

Notably, Groene did support a procedural motion to advance Wishart’s more expansive medical cannabis bill last session.

Jane Kleeb, chair of the Nebraska Democrats, pounced on the restrictive nature of Groene’s bill and said it makes it “not easy or feasible for most” to obtain a medical cannabis recommendation from a doctor.

Shari Lawlor, a member of Nebraska Families for Medical Cannabis, said that the group is “grateful that Sen. Groene recognizes the importance of medical cannabis,” but as drafted, “this is a medical cannabis bill with no cannabis.”

“It envisions a system with dispensaries but no farmers or cultivators who actually produce the medical cannabis that patients need,” she said. “And since patients are not allowed to cultivate medical cannabis themselves under this proposal, there is effectively no way for patients to get the relief they need.”

Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) is no fan of legalization. He partnered with SAM Nebraska on a recent ad urging residents to oppose cannabis reform in the state. Given the organization’s support for this new GOP proposal, there’s some suspicion that he might back it to give the appearance that the administration isn’t deaf to calls for reform by voters.

Advocates aren’t going to be deterred by the bill’s introduction. They will be moving forward with the complementary medical cannabis initiatives in hopes to getting the issue to voters.

The campaign deliberately chose to take a bifurcated approach because of the state Supreme Court invalidation over the single-subject rule.

One of the statutory initiatives would establish legal protections for patients and doctors around cannabis, while the other would allow private companies to produce and sell medical marijuana products.

Lawmakers attempted to advance medical cannabis reform legislatively last year, but while the unicameral legislature debated a bill to legalize medical marijuana in May, it failed to advance past a filibuster because the body didn’t have enough votes to overcome it.

Wishart and NMM co-chair Sen. Adam Morfeld (D) announced in late 2020 that they would also work to put the question of legalizing marijuana for adult use before voters in 2022. But for now their focus appears to be on the medical cannabis effort.

For what it’s worth, Nebraska’s attorney general argued in an opinion in 2019 that efforts to legalize medical marijuana legislatively in the state would be preempted by federal law and “would be, therefore, unconstitutional.”

Rhode Island Governor Includes Marijuana Legalization And Expungements In Budget Request

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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