The NAACP’s board of directors approved a resolution on Thursday calling for the “immediate passage” of a bipartisan marijuana banking bill and expressing support for federally legalizing cannabis. And the vice chair of the group is specifically directing the message at Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who has held up House-passed legislation on the issue.
The organization said that the banking reform is critical to ensuring industry equity, giving small- and minority-owned businesses access to financial services that could help them compete in an increasingly consolidated market.
And while NAACP backs more broadly ending marijuana prohibition, it wants Congress to leverage the bipartisan momentum behind incremental reform and quickly pass the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which has cleared the House in some for seven times now.
As Vice Chair of the @NAACP Board of Directors, I support #SAFEBanking reform because state #cannabis legalization & related #equity programs designed to support Black entrepreneurs will not advance #racialjustice w/o providing cannabis businesses access to capital & bank accts.
— Karen Boykin-Towns (@KarenBTowns) October 20, 2022
“The SAFE Banking Act could enable cannabis businesses with social equity licenses, diverse ownership licenses, or other licenses made available by states with medical- and adult-use cannabis laws that aim to foster a diverse and equitable industry, to better compete in the industry if it was coupled with the federal descheduling of marijuana and explicitly provided for fair terms and rates for Black-owned and social equity licensed cannabis businesses,” the resolution says.
As a leading Black civil rights institution, NAACP’s voice on this issue is notable, as it runs counter to the position of some other justice-focused advocates who have taken a more skeptical view of the banking legislation and insisted on passing comprehensive legalization first. Other groups have insisted that significant amendments be made to the SAFE Banking Act to more firmly address equity concerns before it can be passed.
The NAACP resolution also notes a legalization bill, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, that passed the House for a second time in April.
The resolution explains that the bill would “end federal prohibition by descheduling marijuana, expunge and resentence cannabis convictions, reinvest cannabis tax revenue in social services and Small Business Administration opportunities for communities most impacted by cannabis prohibition, and end collateral consequences associated with a marijuana arrest or convictions.”
— Karen Boykin-Towns (@KarenBTowns) October 20, 2022
To that end, NAACP said it is reaffirming its support for an earlier 2021 resolution “calling for greater economic opportunities for African Americans in the growing cannabis industry,” as well as a 2019 resolution in support of legalizing and regulating marijuana.
Further, the organization “supports the immediate passage of legislation to provide access to banking services with fair terms and rates for Black-owned and social equity licensed cannabis businesses.”
In a tweet showing the text of the resolution, NAACP Vice Chair of the Board of Directors Karen Boykin-Towns tagged Schumer, saying, “let’s bring #SAFEBanking to a vote to help those harmed by the #warondrugs to find opportunity in legalization.”
The American Bankers Association promoted Boykin-Towns call, tweeting that “it’s time for the Senate to pass the #SAFEBanking Act.”
— American Bankers Association (@ABABankers) October 21, 2022
The NAACP resolution also says the organization “supports comprehensive legislation that provides for individual remedies for those who have been arrested for or convicted of marijuana possession or sale, including release from incarceration and automatic pardon and expungement of records.”
NAACP and other civil rights groups like the ACLU previously pushed Congress to vote on the MORE Act. And the legal arm of NAACP said in August that, as congressional lawmakers stall on broad reform, states should fill in the gap by continuing to enact legalization.
With respect to banking, there’s been a serious push on the part of advocates, industry stakeholders, associations and lawmakers to get the reform passed before the end of this Congress.
The governor of Colorado and other top state officials like Treasurer Dave Young (D) sent a letter to congressional leaders this month reiterating their interest in having lawmakers pass the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act from Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO).
Members of the National Association of State Treasurers (NAST), including Young, also recently reaffirmed the organization’s support for a resolution voicing support for the SAFE Banking Act. Young told Marijuana Moment that the status quo has created a “21st century Wild West in which armed hold ups and storefront heists are becoming an all-too-common risk.”
Schumer, who is working to finalize a package of cannabis proposals that’s expected to including the SAFE Banking Act language, separately spoke about the banking issue at a White House event last month, emphasizing that he was working on the problem, according to the House sponsor.
The conversation between Schumer and Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) happened at an event on inflation reduction and happened to coincide with the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) lobby days, with over 100 marijuana business leaders on Capitol Hill to push for the passage of the SAFE Banking Act.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) similarly said that he thinks Congress has a “good shot” of passing cannabis banking reform during the lame duck as part of the yet-to-be-filed legislation that’s being described as “SAFE Plus.” He was previously adamant about not touching the banking issue until comprehensive legalization is enacted, but he’s softened his tone in recent months and expressed interest in a compromise.
In addition to banking, the expectation is that the in-the-works marijuana omnibus legislation that Schumer and bipartisan and bicameral officers are working on will include proposals on cannabis research, veterans medical marijuana access and more.
Perlmutter said at an NCIA-organized press conference that he’s increasingly tempted to “go to the nuclear option” in the House Rules Committee of “holding up” separate legislation like the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in order to get the marijuana banking measure enacted.
The congressman and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the Senate sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, also outlined next steps for the cannabis banking reform at a briefing organized by the U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC) in July.
Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition (CRCC) released a paper in August that outlined what they view as shortcomings of the standalone SAFE Banking Act and recommended several amendments to bolster its equity impact.
Booker said at an event organized by CRCC that the standalone legislation “requires changes” if it’s going to advance before cannabis is federally legalized.
The senator initially signaled that he was coming around to marijuana banking reform (contingent on equity provisions) at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing in July that he convened as chairman.
Meanwhile, Perlmutter also said in a recent interview that he feels the introduction of the Senate legalization bill alone means that lawmakers have overcome a legislative “hurdle” that’s kept SAFE Banking from advancing in the chamber.
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Two in three Americans want to see Congress pass a bill letting state-legal marijuana businesses access traditional banking services like checking accounts and loans, according to a new poll from the American Bankers Association (ABA).
Another recent poll found that Republican voters are on board with a number of marijuana reform proposals—from medical cannabis legalization to expungements for prior marijuana convictions to letting states set their own policies without federal interference.
According to a survey from Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) that was released in September, a majority of American voters (65 percent) support allowing banks to work with state-legal marijuana businesses—and most people believe it will both improve public safety and promote social equity.
Separately, the non-partisan National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) recently voted to adopt a revised policy directive that expresses support for federal marijuana descheduling and cannabis banking reform amid the state-level legalization movement.
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