Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) said in a new interview that the federal government’s national prohibition of marijuana doesn’t make sense and that Congress must, at a minimum, pass legislation to allow cannabis businesses to access financial institutions.
In an appearance on The Federalist Radio Show that was released on Friday, the senator was asked about the growing number of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates (except Joe Biden) who support marijuana legalization. Lee started by making a quip about how legalizing cannabis would lead to “more snowboarding, higher consumption of Doritos [and] Hostess products”—but then he got serious about the issue.
“We are at a weird inflection point,” he said. “If we were starting from a blank slate, I think it would always have made more sense for a thing like marijuana to have been regulated at a state level because this is a commodity that can be grown, harvested, packaged, sold and consumed entirely intrastate. And I think it probably would have made more sense to give the states the authority at the outset to make that decision on their own.”
The senator then talked about banking issues for the marijuana industry, saying that states have seen “an increase in duffle bags with $400,000 in cash making their rounds through the communities of Denver and elsewhere in Colorado because you cannot lawfully bank or electronically transfer money that is involved in marijuana.”
Listen to Lee’s marijuana remarks about 56:50 into the audio below:
“So at a minimum, Congress is going to have to do something to deal with that,” he said. “This is a public safety problem, to have this much cash in circulation. At a minimum, we’re going to have to lift the banking restriction. I don’t see another way around it.”
It’s a sentiment that a growing number of lawmakers have embraced, with legislation to fix the problem heading to a full House floor vote after it was approved in a bipartisan vote of the Financial Services Committee last month.
But while Lee recognized the importance of the issue in the new interview, he’s yet to join his colleagues—more than a fifth of the entire Senate—in cosponsoring a companion cannabis banking bill filed this month. And he never signed on to earlier versions of marijuana financial services legislation introduced in prior Congresses, either.
“We’re glad to see Sen. Lee recognize that having a cash-only industry is a safety and transparency issue,” Michael Correia, director of government relations for the National Cannabis Industry Association, told Marijuana Moment. “As Utah’s medical cannabis program progresses, it will be incredibly important for this problem to be resolved. If the senator is serious about this, he will sign on as a cosponsor to S. 1200, as 22 of his colleagues have.”
In recent years, Lee has made a habit of coming out in support of bold marijuana policy action but not following through with sponsorships or cosponsorships.
For example, he said in 2017 that states should be allowed to legalize not just marijuana but other drugs including heroin as well. He did ultimately cosponsor the CARERS Act, which would protect states with medical cannabis laws from federal intervention, but even as he’s expressed the view that states should have greater autonomy, he’s declined to cosponsor legislation like the STATES Act, which would apply those protections states allowing adult-use marijuana.
Photo courtesy of Evan Johnson.