Four major national financial associations sent a letter to House leadership on Thursday, expressing support for bipartisan marijuana banking legislation that’s expected to receive a floor vote next week. Meanwhile, 50 state banking associations sent a similar letter urging Congress to pass the bill.
The American Bankers Association (ABA), Credit Union National Association (CUNA), Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) and National Bankers Association (NBA) wrote that while they do not have a position on cannabis legalization, “our members are committed to serving the financial needs of their communities—including those that have voted to legalize cannabis.”
“The current threat of criminal and civil liability under federal law is suppressing the provision of vital financial services in the thirty-three states that have legalized cannabis in some form,” the groups wrote.
ABA joins @CUNA @ICBA and @AssocNational in writing House leaders to express support for the bipartisan #SAFEBanking Act, which "would permit depository institutions to serve the needs of their customers in states where cannabis is legal." Read the letter: https://t.co/059tvfNGfZ pic.twitter.com/wVQnMgRG4b
— American Bankers Association (@ABABankers) September 19, 2019
The Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which cleared the House Financial Services Committee in March, has been a hot topic on Capitol Hill since Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told the Democratic Caucus last week that he intends to hold a vote on the bill by the end of the month.
Advocacy groups including the ACLU, Human Rights Watch and Drug Policy Alliance responded to the development with a letter urging a delay on the vote until more comprehensive legalization legislation that addresses social equity is passed.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) agrees with that sentiment, a staffer in her office told Marijuana Moment.
“She feels strongly that addressing racial justice should be the first priority,” Dan Riffle, senior counsel and policy advisor to the congresswoman, said.
This latest letter from the banking associations highlights the contention over the issue, with lawmakers facing pressure to act on marijuana reform without alienating groups that are primarily concerned with addressing the social injustices of prohibition.
Several House members, including Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), lead sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, told Marijuana Moment on Wednesday that they appreciate what organizations like the ACLU are fighting for, but said it is incumbent on Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) to advance his separate wide-ranging legalization bill that civil rights groups want prioritized. In the meantime, they will be supporting the banking legislation.
Because House leaders plan to bring the cannabis banking legislation forward under an expedited procedure that requires a two-thirds majority for approval, potential opposition from Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive lawmakers who believe social equity proposals should advance first could jeopardize passage.
“The SAFE Banking Act of 2019 provides a mechanism for the cannabis industry and its service providers to deposit their cash in regulated financial institutions, which allows our members to meet the needs of their communities and helps those communities reduce cash-motivated crimes, increase the efficiency of tax collections, and improve the financial transparency of the cannabis industry,” the financial services groups wrote.
“Without congressional action, a significant portion of economic activity, including those businesses with only indirect connections to the cannabis industry, such as vendors, suppliers, and utility companies, risk being marginalized from the financial system in states with legal cannabis industries. H.R. 1595 provides needed legal protection and clarity for financial institutions to accept deposits, extend credit, and provide other financial services to individuals and businesses that derive some portion of their income from legal state cannabis related activity.”
The second letter, from ABA and the 50 state banking associations, said the SAFE Banking Act is “fair and balanced legislation that will permit depository institutions to serve the needs of their customers in states where cannabis is legal.”
“The bill provides a mechanism for the cannabis industry and its service providers to deposit their cash in regulated financial institutions, which allows banks to meet the needs of their communities and helps those communities reduce cash-motivated crimes, increase the efficiency of tax collections, and improve the financial transparency of the cannabis industry,” they wrote.
50 state bankers associations have also written House leaders, urging them to support the #SAFEBanking Act. “This is fair and balanced legislation that will permit depository institutions to serve…their customers in states where cannabis is legal.” https://t.co/WddyTEokCT pic.twitter.com/LDerOw8znj
— American Bankers Association (@ABABankers) September 19, 2019
Over in the Senate, Banking Chair Mike Crapo (R-ID) said that his panel will also be holding a vote on legislation to give cannabis businesses access to financial services before the end of the year.
Read the full letter on marijuana banking below from the four national groups:
This story was updated to include the letter from the 50 state banking associations.
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.