The attorney general of Michigan says that a string of break-ins at marijuana dispensaries in the state underscore the need for Congress to pass cannabis banking reform.
Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) said that 12 warrants have been issued for people suspected of being involved in breaking into 20 marijuana retailers last year. Their charges range from safe breaking (a felony that can carry a life sentence) to breaking and entering (a 10-year felony).
As pressure builds on congressional lawmakers to pass cannabis banking reform, the state’s top law enforcement official said that the alleged criminal activity is “an unfortunate example of why Congress must pass the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act.”
— Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (@MIAttyGen) March 23, 2023
“Without access to traditional banking the cannabis industry is left as a ripe target for criminals,” she said. “Any legal business should have fair access to our banking institutions for the security of their own business and employees as well as public safety.”
Supporters of the SAFE Banking Act have long argued that enacting the policy change would serve a public safety interest, allowing state-legal marijuana businesses to access traditional financial services, without having to operate on a largely cash-only basis.
Marijuana businesses in Washington State saw a surge in burglaries and robberies, some of them violent or deadly, late last year, according to a report from StoptheDrugWar.org. Nearly 100 shops were impacted over a period of less than five months, it shows.
Washington State Treasurer Mike Pellicciotti has repeatedly raised the issue, and last year he reiterated his call for a federal policy change and discussed steps the state can take on its own while Congress fails to act.
U.S. Senate President Pro Tempore Patty Murray (D-WA) has also pushed for passage of the SAFE Banking Act in the interest of public safety.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said on Wednesday that lawmakers need to act on marijuana banking legislation “this year,” and his Republican counterpart on the panel agrees that the issue will “come to a conclusion likely in this Congress.”
Both Brown and the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), spoke at the American Bankers Association (ABA) Washington Summit—one day after the lead GOP sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act urged the financial sector to put pressure on Congress to get the job done.
Brown also said that he’s under the impression that the White House is supportive of the legislation.
That’s a notable detail, as White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to say what President Joe Biden thinks about the policy proposal during a briefing in January, stating that it was up to Congress.
Marijuana Moment is 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.
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Patrick McHenry (R-NC) also spoke at the ABA summit on Wednesday. He stressed that the SAFE Banking Act is “not a priority” on his agenda, though he acknowledged that several of his Republican colleagues on the panel such as Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH) are working to advance the issue.
McHenry previously said that while he still opposes the banking proposal, he wouldn’t stand in its way.
On Tuesday, a coalition of cannabis industry associations sent a letter to Senate Banking Committee leadership, urging a swift action on the bipartisan banking legislation, which has cleared the House multiple times in past sessions only to stall in the Senate.
The National Cannabis Roundtable (NCR), National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC), Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) and National Hispanic Cannabis Council (NHCC) led the letter to Brown and Scott.
They groups said that the committee should “immediately schedule a hearing to discuss the lack of access to banking and other financial resources that is harming the U.S. cannabis industry, and advance bipartisan legislation expeditiously to improve public safety and provide much-needed access to capital to these businesses.”
Advocates and industry stakeholders have run low on patience with the Senate after leadership failed to pass the banking reform, along with other modest proposals on issues like expungements, as part of the so-called SAFE Plus package last session.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said last week that he’s still committed to moving the legislation with SAFE Banking sponsor Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), even with a divided Congress where Republicans control the House.
After last year’s election, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said that he believed it could take “many years from now” to pass cannabis legislation if Democrats didn’t get the job done during the lame duck session.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said during a Senate Finance Committee hearing last week that regulators are separately exploring options to address the cannabis banking issue.