Twelve Republican lawmakers sent a letter to the chair of the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday, thanking him for proposing a series of restrictive changes to a House-passed bill to provide marijuana businesses with greater access to financial services. Meanwhile, a coalition of more than 1,300 cannabis industry professionals sent a separate letter urging the chairman to advance the bill as written.
The first letter, led by Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC), thanked Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) for “introducing a public health perspective to the question of banking for marijuana enterprises, including recreational stores that are advertising products that are appealing to children.”
“We understand you have received significant pushback from these businesses for raising public health questions related to their business practices, and we urge you to stand strong,” it continues.
After the House approved the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in a largely bipartisan vote in September, there were open questions about how the GOP-controlled Senate would approach the legislation. Initially Crapo indicated that he was not interested in discussing the bill, but he took some by surprise when he later said he wanted to hold a vote on the legislation in his panel by the end of 2019.
The committee held a hearing on the issue in July but did not mark up the legislation. Then the chairman said in December that he wanted to see several significant revisions, including some that reform advocates and industry stakeholders view as untenable. Among Crapo’s proposed revisions are limiting banking access to cannabis businesses that sell products with a maximum of two percent THC—a policy that would disqualify virtually all existing marijuana firms.
All twelve lawmakers who signed the new letter voted against the SAFE Banking Act on the House floor. They reiterated that they remain opposed to the reform move and laid out three areas of particular concern where they say the legislation “liberalizes federal law surrounding marijuana and would result in increased promotion of marijuana use.”
They wrote that high concentrations of THC in cannabis are a public health concern and that even relatively low levels of the cannabinoid can cause “IQ loss, increased risk of serious mental illness, and addiction.” They also argue that THC vapes, including those obtained in regulated markets, have been linked to lung injuries. Finally, they expresses worry about marijuana-impaired driving.
“We thank you again for your examination and consideration of these important public health topics,” the letter to Crapo concludes. “We remain opposed to liberalizing drug laws (including around banking), and we see these as some of our areas of greatest concern. We must protect our youth by preventing investment into companies that would prey upon them.”
The separate industry led letter—which was signed by representatives of major businesses and organizations such as the National Cannabis Industry Association, Cannabis Trade Federation, Marijuana Policy Project, VS Strategies, 4Front Ventures, Acreage Holdings and hundreds of others—makes the case that Crapo should proceed to hold a markup of the legislation as passed by the House.
“This is not a partisan issue, or a regional issue. We are a bipartisan group, with operations spread across the United States,” the letter states. “Simply put, this is an issue of fairness and of safety.”
“Because of the absence of banking reform that keeps pace with the federal hemp reforms and state-level medical and adult-use reforms, many cannabis businesses struggle to obtain and maintain bank accounts. Yet, banking is a crucial element for this burgeoning industry to operate safely. Without banking services, U.S. businesses will continue to operate in a cash environment that endangers employees and the public. Every day that we wait is another day that our employees and the members of the public who patronize our businesses are at risk of robbery and assault because we operate in an all cash environment.”
“We are merely asking that you facilitate the availability of financial services to the hemp and state-legal cannabis industry in order to improve public safety, allow states and the federal government to easily track and collect tax revenue, and assist the state-legal industry to displace an illicit market that is currently operating free from any regulatory oversight,” the group wrote, adding that the industry “stands ready to work with your office on the myriad technical issues that you have suggested should be a priority, including making certain that these products are not available to children.”
Responding to the opposing letter from GOP lawmakers, Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment that if “a single signer of this letter was genuinely concerned about any of the issues laid out, then they would call for legalization and regulation, not maintaining prohibition and an illegal marijuana marketplace.”
“Sadly, they are simply relying on tired, lazy reefer madness rhetoric.”
Joining Budd in signing the letter are: Reps. Hal Rogers (R-KY), Robert Aderholt (R-AL), Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Mark Meadows (R-NC), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), David Rouzer (R-NC), Ken Buck (R-CO), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Debbie Lesko (R-AZ), Dan Bishop (R-NC) and Andy Harris (R-MD).
Kevin Sabet, president of the prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said in a press release that his group is “thankful these members of Congress are choosing to stand in support of public health and safety by reassuring Senator Crapo that he is acting in the best interest of the country by slowing down the rush to extend the federally illegal marijuana industry access to banks.”
The letter explains that potency levels of today’s marijuana products, the ongoing marijuana vaping crisis, and marijuana impaired driving are key issues that must be addressed prior to further consideration of any such legislation granting banking access to Big Pot.
— SAM (@learnaboutsam) February 13, 2020
“With the host of unknown health harms that can result from today’s super potent pot products, the risk of expanding this industry are too great,” he said.
Budd, for his part, said in a statement about the letter that he believes “we need a full examination of these harms to ensure that Americans, especially our children, don’t fall into an unhealthy lifestyle.”
The new dueling letters come weeks after after the House sponsors of the SAFE Banking Act wrote to Crapo, urging him to advance the financial services-focused bill despite his reservations on broader marijuana issues.