A coalition of 35 cannabis trade associations, drug policy reform groups and a top national labor union are calling on Congress to help address the “humanitarian toll” of robberies targeting cash-intensive marijuana businesses by passing a bipartisan cannabis banking bill “this year.”
As the Senate Banking Committee prepares to vote on the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act next week, the coalition sent a letter to congressional lawmakers on Tuesday that described passage of the legislation as a “moral imperative.”
The letter, led by StoptheDrugWar.org and the Cannabis Alliance, offers a worker safety perspective on the issue, explaining how the current lack of access to financial services for marijuana businesses has created an untenable environment that puts cannabis workers and customers at unique risk of being victimized by crime.
“Between the directly targeted personnel, their friends and loved ones, and their at-risk colleagues, the impacted population numbers in the thousands,” the organizations wrote. “Customers of these stores, who had sought a safer environment by taking their business to the state-legal system instead of the underground market, can also be considered an impacted population.”
“The number of people affected in these ways will continue to grow with the passage of time, and as medical or adult use legal cannabis systems get established in more places, absent measures taken by Congress and others to protect them,” they wrote.
The letter also points to a report published by StoptheDrugWar.org late last year, highlighting a spate of more than 100 robberies that took place at over 80 cannabis dispensaries in Washington State from November 2021 to April 2022. Gov. Jay Inslee (D) also called on Congress to act on the SAFE Banking Act amid the targeted crime surge.
“As cash usage in our society has declined, people who steal for a living have become desperate for income,” StoptheDrugWar.org Executive Director David Borden said in a press release on Tuesday. “Those stores which have valuable merchandise to target, or which still have lots of cash around—or which like cannabis stores have both—are proportionally more at risk being targeted than was likely in the past. This means the problem isn’t going to just go away on its own.”
“Worker safety is a matter of basic justice, and while we continue to work for broad drug policy reform, we feel an obligation to also help cannabis workers right now,” he said.
Studies have found that cash is a primary motivator for the robberies, rather than the cannabis itself, the new letter from the groups says. And these crimes “were associated with higher average aggression levels than other robberies.”
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), whose director of legislative and political action Ademola Oyefeso testified at an initial Senate Banking Committee hearing on the cannabis bill, is among the signatories on the letter.
Other groups that signed on include: the Alliance for Sensible Markets, Better Organizing to Win Legalization (BOWL) PAC, Drug Policy Forum of Hawai’i, Housing Works, Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA), National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), National Cannabis Roundtable (NCR) and NORML, which also had several state chapter signatories.
“The facts on the ground as noted above, as well as other facts and long-held criminological understandings about property crime, show that the abnormal banking situation faced by the state-legal cannabis industry is a factor jeopardizing workers’ lives and health,” the letter says. “SAFE Banking is not the first effort to address the cannabis sector’s dangerous overreliance on cash, and it may not be the last that is needed. But the safety issues faced by the cannabis sector won’t be solved without it.”
“In light of the demonstrated humanitarian toll that is possible if an event as occurred in Washington were to recur, it is a moral imperative for Congress to enact some version of the SAFE Banking Act this year, in order to progress our country toward a safe environment for the workers, owners, customers and other visitors of state-legal cannabis retail stores,” it concludes.
In July, the American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp (ATACH)—along with trade groups representing marijuana businesses in 16 states plus Washington, D.C.—also sent a letter to Senate Banking Committee Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Ranking Member Tim Scott (R-SC), imploring them to pass the cannabis banking bill “without further delay.”
The American Bankers Association (ABA) also renewed its call for the passage of the legislation in May. And all 50 of its state chapters did the same, as did insurance and union organizations, in letters to congressional leadership.
At this point, the SAFE Banking Act has 42 cosponsors—nearly half of the Senate—and that includes eight Republicans and three independents. As a standalone in its current form, insiders say the measure has enough Republican buy-in to reach the 60-vote threshold needed for passage in the Senate.
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As its currently drafted, the measure would protect banks and credit unions, as well as depository institutions, from being penalized by federal regulators for working with state-licensed cannabis businesses.
Others have also floated other changes that they’d like to see incorporated into the cannabis bill such as expanding protections to free up marijuana industry access to all forms of financial services, including representation on major U.S. stock exchanges.
That request has faced some criticism from other advocates who say that would be an inappropriate move to help businesses while efforts to legalize marijuana stall in Congress.
Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) has also said that she wanted the SAFE Banking Act to pass with an amendment allowing cannabis businesses to access federal Small Business Administration (SBA) services.
Meanwhile, recent data from the federal Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) shows that a record number of banks and credit unions are reporting that they work with state-licensed cannabis businesses as of the second quarter of 2023.
Read the full marijuana banking letter below:
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.