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Democratic State Treasurers Step Up Marijuana Banking Push Following GOP Attacks

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A group of Democratic state treasurers is renewing its call for the passage of marijuana banking protections as part of the next coronavirus relief package in the face of attacks on the issue from Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and other Republicans.

Last month, bipartisan treasurers from 15 states and one territory sent a letter to congressional leadership, urging the inclusion of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in any COVID-19 legislation that’s sent to the president’s desk. But with recent criticism of the proposal from Pence, McConnell and other top GOP officials, the Democratic Treasurers Association put out a new press release on Monday to emphasize the need for reform.

Fiona Ma, California State Treasurer, told Marijuana Moment that “Senate Republicans talk about law and order, but when it comes to the basic public safety issue of getting cannabis money into financial institutions and off the streets they are missing in action.”

“It has been 551 days since I testified before the House Financial Services Committee in support of this legislation, 327 days since it passed the House with an overwhelming majority, and 100 days since it was passed again and included in the Heroes Act,” she said. “This is a simple but important step that could make our communities safer and provide a much needed influx of cash for California’s banks and credit unions.”

Pence noted last week that the latest House-passed coronavirus bill “actually mentions marijuana more than it mentions jobs” and argued that Americans “don’t want some pork barrel bill coming out of the Congress when we’ve got real needs from working families.”

McConnell, meanwhile, has repeatedly criticized the banking language in the other chamber’s COVID legislation, though he’s largely focused on a provision that requires diversity reporting for the industry rather than the main financial services provisions of the SAFE Banking Act. In general, the proposal would protect banks and credit unions that service the state-legal cannabis market from being penalized by federal regulators.

“Despite support from Congressional Democrats and Republicans across red and blue states, Vice President Pence and Senate Leader McConnell are stuck in the past, parroting outdated rhetoric that falls far short of the leadership we need in the middle of a global public health and economic crisis,” Oregon State Treasurer Tobias Read (D), who led last month’s letter, said in a press release from the Democratic treasurer’s group on Monday.

“The 28,000 cannabis-related legitimate businesses and their nearly 250,000 employees, who already faced significant burdens before the pandemic, are now confronting dangerous new obstacles as they attempt to address the changed circumstances,” Colorado State Treasurer Dave Young (D) said in the release. “Bringing cannabis businesses into the regulated financial system makes customers, employees, and communities safer.”

Advocates, stakeholders and lawmakers have made the case that providing marijuana banking protections will mitigate the spread of the coronavirus by making it so cannabis businesses don’t have to rely on cash transactions. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said she agrees that the measure is germane, which McConnell later disputed.

“Passage of the SAFE Banking Act would reduce the use of cash in this industry which would reduce the risk of contracting the virus,” Illinois State Treasurer Mike Frerichs (D) said on Monday. “It’s time for Congress to allow the SAFE Banking Act to protect consumers and the people who are working in this industry so they stay safe and healthy.”

While the Senate did not include the banking language as part of their most recently released COVID-19 legislation, there’s still the standalone SAFE Banking Act that the House passed last year that could be acted upon.

The bill has been sitting in the Senate Banking Committee for months as lawmakers negotiate over the finer points of the proposal.

In May, a bipartisan coalition of 34 state attorneys general wrote to Congress to urge the passage of COVD-19 legislation containing cannabis banking provisions.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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