On Tuesday, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced he was selecting Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his running mate for the 2020 election.
Harris, a former prosecutor, has experienced an evolution regarding her views on marijuana prohibition during the last decade.
Views Prior to 2015
In 2003, Harris began her foray into electoral politics by challenging Democratic incumbent Terrence Hallinan for the San Francisco attorney general position. During the campaign, Harris criticized Hallinan’s office for its low conviction rate and vowed to take a tougher stance on crime. After successfully defeating Hallinan, Harris did just that. While at the helm, her office oversaw a 6 percent rise in marijuana convictions. Despite those high numbers, Paul Henderson, Harris’ chief of administration, stated, “Our policy was that no one with a marijuana conviction for mere possession could do any (jail time) at all.”
In 2010, while Harris was making a run for state attorney general, she came out against Proposition 19 — a bill designed to legalize and tax marijuana in California. Her campaign made the statement, “[Harris] supports the legal use of medicinal marijuana but does not support anything beyond that.”
Four years later, during re-election, she was flanked to the left by her Republican opponent Ron Gold who stated, “[marijuana] needs to be legalized immediately.” When told about Gold’s statement by a local news station, Harris simply laughed and said, “He’s entitled to his opinion.”
2015 Through the Present
In 2015 her position began to soften. During a speech at the California Democrats Convention, Harris came out in support of ending the federal ban on marijuana. She echoed this statement in 2016 after being elected to congress. Harris addressed noted marijuana prohibitionist Jeff Sessions directly while speaking at the Center for American Progress by saying, “Let me tell you what California needs, Jeff Sessions. We need support in dealing with transnational criminal organizations and dealing with human trafficking – not in going after grandma’s medicinal marijuana.”
She continued, “While I don’t believe in legalizing all drugs — as a career prosecutor, I just don’t — we need to do the smart thing, the right thing, and finally decriminalize marijuana.”
Her shifting views on cannabis prohibition became even more apparent in 2018 when Harris signed onto the Marijuana Justice Act — Presidential rival Cory Booker’s (D-NJ) far-reaching bill designed to end federal prohibition.
In 2019, Harris went a step further and co-sponsored the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE). The MORE Act called for not only complete federal legalization but also the expungement of prior marijuana convictions. It marked the first time in history a congressional committee has approved a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition.
“Right now in this country, people are being arrested, being prosecuted, and end up spending time in jail or prison all because of their use of a drug that otherwise should be considered legal,” Harris said in a press release regarding her involvement with the MORE Act.
“Making marijuana legal at the federal level is the smart thing to do; it’s the right thing to do. I know this as a former prosecutor, and I know it as a senator.”
Harris went on to co-sponsor the SAFE Banking act — an essential piece of legislation that would allow cannabis dispensaries access to financial institutions like banks and credit unions.
The California Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA) is calling for cannabis businesses to join them in imploring Speaker Pelosi to prioritize the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (SAFE Banking Act).
Click this link to add your company name and logo to the letter that will be sent to Speaker Pelosi later today. The cutoff time of today, August 4 at 5 pm is quickly approaching. Act now.
What is the SAFE Banking Act?
The SAFE Banking Act is a measure that will allow financial institutions, like banks and credit unions, and insurance providers to work with state-legal, legitimate cannabis businesses without fear of federal prosecution.
Currently, these service providers are not able to work with cannabis businesses because cannabis remains federally illegal under the Controlled Substances Act. More than 30 states, Washington D.C., Guam, and U.S. Virgin Islands have enacted either medicinal or recreational legalization amendments. Cannabis businesses deserve the same access to banking and insurance services as any other legitimate business. The federal government cannot ignore the will of the people, and lawmakers need to hear from you to know that you want them to support the SAFE Banking Act.
This is the email statement from the CCIA about the plan to send a letter:
Now is the time to raise our voices and fight for SAFE Banking on behalf of the entire cannabis community. We have a narrow window to implore Speaker Pelosi to prioritize this legislation. Please lend your name to this crucial effort by 5 pm on 8/4!
CCIA and The Liaison Group have been working tirelessly behind the scenes on SAFE Banking. Our efforts in the spring with California Delegation leaders Correa, Porter and Lieu, were crucial to SAFE making it into the Heroes Act.
SAFE Banking has passed out of the House on two occasions, the latest being part of the Heroes Act (H.R. 6800), however, this bill is yet to be passed by the Senate and signed into law. We need our leadership in California to negotiate that SAFE language remains in the COVID relief act!
We need SAFE Banking to ensure that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) owned businesses, especially women, have equitable access to funding and for the safety of our employees and our communities. We know that the fight for social justice and cannabis reform are deeply intertwined and that cannabis justice is racial justice. We cannot hope to repair our communities through reinvestment without the appropriate tools, including SAFE Banking.
CCIA will be submitting a letter on behalf of our members to urge Speaker Pelosi to help fight for SAFE Banking. Please use the link below to add your company name and logo by 5 pm 8/4.
We’re in this fight together!
Below is a copy of the letter that the CCIA will send to Speaker Pelosi today:
August 5, 2020
The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Speaker Pelosi:
For the safety of our employees and our communities, we the undersigned implore you to ensure the SAFE Banking Act remains part of COVID relief. As you know, the SAFE Banking passed out of the House on two occasions. The first was standalone bill H.R. 1595 and the second as part of the Heroes Act (H.R. 6800), however, this bill is yet to be passed by the Senate and signed into law. Upon reviewing the Senate response to Heroes, we were disappointed to see SAFE Banking not included, but want to make sure that this important piece of legislation is part of a final negotiated package. We need SAFE Banking to ensure that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) owned businesses, especially those owned by women, have equitable access to funding. Most notably, BIPOC owners who have been most adversely impacted by the pandemic compared to their white counterparts. Below are just some reasons among many that stress the importance of this relief.
- Los Angeles’s social equity program, one of the few in the state, was designed to promote equitable ownership in the cannabis industry, but this program has had considerable challenges due to an imbalance of wealth. Although it was intended that Social Equity applicants have the opportunity to be first to market, a group of said applicants were forced to file a lawsuit to achieve fairness in a flawed process, which has now been settled. This is just the first step in an attempt to achieve equity. The majority of Social Equity applicants have not been able to afford the delayed process, nor the start-up costs associated with launching a cannabis business.
- BIPOC operators lack access to the capital that is essential to start cannabis businesses, so establishing loan programs would help with this burden. However, even if the SBA were to set up a loan program, this could not be effectuated without access to banks.
- Unfortunately, in the states that have equity programs written into their cannabis statutes, BIPOC owners fall prey to predatory business arrangements in which larger cannabis companies will be effectively running the businesses through a management services agreement while the BIPOC owner becomes a figurehead.
- Women and BIPOC face significant barriers to accessing investment dollars. Every year women of color get less than 1% of total venture capital funding. Further, data from 2019 indicates that only 200 Latinx and Black individuals nationwide were able to raise over $1 million in venture capital. This number is for all industries, not just cannabis.
- The bill is unquestionably part of a holistic approach to ending the War on Drugs, and its devastating effects on communities of color. The longer that BIPOC entrepreneurs have to wait to enter this industry, the greater disadvantage they are at because of larger companies’ ability to build their brands and customer loyalty.
- SAFE Banking reduces cash motivated crimes. Cannabis businesses and employees are routinely targeted, robbed, and sometimes attacked because of the large amounts of cash that they are forced to deal with.
- Lastly, SAFE Banking as included in the Heroes Act (H.R 6800) calls for two diversity studies for the cannabis industry. While these studies will largely tell us what we currently know (that non-white representation in the industry is disproportionately low), this will create an important baseline for future conversations around legalization and ensuring the industry is equitable.
We know that the fight for social justice and cannabis reform are deeply intertwined and that cannabis justice is racial justice. We cannot hope to repair our communities through reinvestment without the appropriate tools, including SAFE Banking. The events of recent months have shown us that this bill is more important than ever. We urge its swift passage to help our economy and our communities.
California Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA)
CCIA Board President
Senior Vice President Harborside
CCIA Board Vice President
On Monday, the Republican-controlled Senate rolled out new Coronavirus relief legislation—a counteroffer to the $3.4 trillion package unveiled by House democrats back in May. The Senate’s relief bill comes with a much smaller price tag of only $1 trillion dollars, which it achieves by slashing much of the benefits proposed by the House.
In addition to the dramatic cuts to the weekly enhancements of state unemployment benefits and safety net programs proposed in the House’s version (The HEROES Act), the Senate’s package does not include language that would protect banks who service the legal cannabis industry.
SAFE Banking Act
The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which was originally proposed as a standalone bill sponsored by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), would allow legitimate legal cannabis businesses access to financial services regardless of federal prohibition. Despite being initially approved by the house months ago, the Senate Banking Committee has continued to take no action on the bill. In order to circumvent the Senate Banking Committee, House Democrats included a version of the SAFE Banking Act in their Coronavirus relief bill.
According to the summary provided in the HEROES Act, the SAFE Banking section would “allow cannabis-related legitimate businesses, that in many states have remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic as essential services, along with their service providers, to access banking services and products, as well as insurance.”
The executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, Aaron Smith, tweeted out his approval of SAFEs inclusion in the House’s relief bill, stating: “On behalf of the legal cannabis industry, we commend the congressional leadership for prioritizing public health and safety by including sensible cannabis banking policy in this legislation.”
Criticism From Senate Republicans
Despite the fact that forcing essential businesses to continue operating as cash-only during a global pandemic seems counterintuitive to stopping the spread of the virus, Senate Republicans have leveled criticism at the addition of marijuana banking protections to the Coronavirus relief bill.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been particularly vocal about his opposition to including protections for cannabis businesses in any relief package, stating: “I am opposed to non-germane amendments, whether it’s funding for the FBI building…or other non-germane amendments in the House bill like marijuana studies or aid to illegal immigrants…”
McConnell’s disapproval is not only aimed at the germaneness of the SAFE Act being included in the House’s relief legislation, but also at the diversity report provisions that it contains. Back in May, McConnell gave a speech on the Senate floor where he responded to the passing of the House’s HEROES Act. During it, McConnell sardonically referred to the section on marijuana banking protections as “the cherry on top.”
He continued in a similar tone: “Let me say that again, Democrats’ proposed coronavirus bill includes taxpayer-funded studies to measure diversity and inclusion among the people who profit off of marijuana.”
The Future of the SAFE Banking Act
As of now, it is unclear whether or not House Democrats will push for a section on cannabis banking protections to remain during the upcoming bicameral negotiations that will take place to merge the two chambers bills into one.
As for the Standalone bill, there is no reason to think the Senate Banking Committee will take further action any time soon.
Not one, but two medical marijuana initiatives are set to appear on the ballot this November in Mississippi.
Initiatives 65 and 65A would amend Mississippi’s state constitution to allow patients with certain qualifying conditions to access medical marijuana after having been approved by a licensed physician.
The process of getting these amendments on the ballot began in September 2019, when the Medical Marijuana 2020 campaign submitted 214,000 signatures collected from local Mississippians in support of the initiative. In order for an initiated constitutional amendment to make it to the ballot in The Magnolia State, sponsors are required to garner signatures equal to 12 percent of the total votes in the previous year’s gubernatorial race. For 2020, the number required was 86,185.
When voters show up to the polls in November, they will face a two-part question. First, they will be asked to vote for “either measure” if they support either initiative 65 or 65A, or “neither measure” if they want neither measure to pass.
Regardless of the answer to the first question, voters will then be asked which of the two initiatives they prefer. If the “either measure” gets the most votes, then the version of the initiative that received majority support will be enacted.
The Differences Between 65 and 65A
Initiative 65 contains much more specific language regarding the stipulations around who can use medical marijuana, and how much they can possess at a time, than its alternative 65A.
Under initiative 65 there are 22 specified conditions that could qualify a patient for access to medical marijuana including cancer, epilepsy, PTSD, HIV, and more. Patients would be allowed to possess 2.5 ounces at a time, and would be prohibited from smoking cannabis in public spaces. Medical marijuana sales would be taxed at the state’s current sales tax rate of 7 percent, and the costs of a medical marijuana patient ID card would be capped at $50.
In contrast, Initiative 65A makes no specifications for qualifying conditions, tax rates, possession limits, restricts medical marijuana usage only to “terminally ill patients,” and would require medical marijuana treatments to be overseen by a physician. Because of the vagueness of the language in 65A, many of these details would need to be decided by the state legislature. House Democrats have made the argument that 65A is “designed to confuse voters by placing a similar initiative on November’s ballot to dilute the vote to legalize medical marijuana. … The sole intention of HCR 39 [65A] is to mislead and confuse voters and kill a measure for which the majority of Mississippians are in favor.”
Support for Initiative 65
In a poll conducted by Millsaps College and Chism Strategies, 67 percent of Mississippians expressed support for an initiative that would allow patients to use medical marijuana.
State Representative Joel Bomgar (R) has come out in support of the initiative saying, “legalizing medical marijuana just makes sense.”
Representative Bomgar is quoted saying:
“Almost everybody seems to know somebody who could have benefited from medical marijuana or who lives in another state and did benefit from medical marijuana. When you have almost everybody in Mississippi that knows somebody, has an experience, or knows someone in another state, it just starts to make no sense to anyone that 33 states allow medical marijuana and Mississippi is one of 17 that does not.”
Opposition to Initiative 65
Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell is worried that legalized medical marijuana would make more work for the officers in his department. Ezell said, “The sheriff’s office now answers between 26 and 2,800 calls a month. You add marijuana to this mix and, you know the teenagers and young adults, they’re gonna get it. It’s just like we talked about earlier with the brownies and the gummies and all the things they bring back from Colorado. We’ve made a number of arrests since I’ve been in office.”
Member of the Mississippi State Department of Health’s board of directors, Edward Langton, doesn’t believe Initiative 65 is the right way to bring medical marijuana to his state and is skeptical of its proponents. “Wealthy millionaires are trying to establish a new industry, a cartel in Mississippi for marijuana. That’s basically what it boils down to. When people spend $3 million, you can’t say they woke up that morning to be compassionate and provide something medical for people, to make them better.” Langton said.
One of the most important pieces of cannabis-related legislation, the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (SAFE Banking Act), has the chance to be included in the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation in the United States. The House approved the inclusion in May when representatives passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES Act), and it will soon be the Senate’s turn.
The United States Senate has never approved legislation regarding banking services for cannabis businesses before. Many Senators may not have the spirit or understanding to make sure this legislation is enacted, so they need to hear from you, the constituents. Now is the time to contact your Senators. Tell them to support the inclusion of the SAFE Banking Act. Click here to find the contact information for your state’s Senators, and send them an email telling them to support the SAFE BANKING Act. Don’t wait. It only takes a few minutes to voice your opinion. Your letter may be the one to sway the vote.
Are you unsure of what to write? Below is a great sample script from NORML that you can copy and paste into your email. You can also click here to be redirected to NORML’s website where all you have to do is enter your information and it will send your state’s Senators this exact email for you.
I urge you to support the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (SAFE Banking Act), HR 1595 / S. 1200, to allow state-licensed marijuana-related businesses to engage freely in relationships with banks and other financial institutions.
Presently, more than 30 states authorize the licensed production and dispensing of medical cannabis. ten states permit similar commercial activities and retail sales of marijuana to all adults. Yet, thousands of these licensed and regulated businesses do not have access to the banking industry and are unable to accept credit cards, deposit revenues, or write checks to meet payroll or pay taxes. This situation is untenable. No industry can operate safely, transparently, or effectively without access to banks or other financial institutions.
Congress must move to change federal policy so that these growing number of state-compliant businesses, and their consumers, may operate in a manner that is similar to other legal commercial entities.
Allowing tightly regulated marijuana businesses the ability to access the banking system will help reduce the threat of crime, robbery, and assault in our communities and keep the cash out of cartels. I urge you to support and cosponsor The SAFE Banking Act.
Why is the SAFE Banking Act so important?
While cannabis remains federally illegal as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, 33 states and Washington D.C. have enacted laws legalizing the medical and/or recreational use of the plant. Schedule I drugs are considered to be the most dangerous of all substances, and they are described as “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Methamphetamine and cocaine are categorized as Schedule II substances, meaning they are technically defined as being less dangerous and less addictive than marijuana.
The fact that cannabis and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are listed among the ranks of ‘most dangerous’ with heroin and methaqualone (Quaaludes) simply does not make sense when there are more than four million registered medical marijuana patients in the United States, and the majority of Americans are in favor of legalization. Nonetheless, financial institutions and insurance providers are federally regulated, so they simply cannot work with cannabis businesses at this time without risking their operating licenses or federal prosecution. The SAFE Banking Act would greatly improve this situation.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans in more than half of the United States are working within a state-regulated, legitimate industry which generates billions of dollars in tax revenue each year, yet these businesses are denied these imperative services. This is not right. It is not fair, and it needs to change.
This also means that cannabis businesses and their employees, which were deemed ‘essential’ like grocery stores and pharmacies in nearly every state in which they operate, were denied access to the federal Payment Protection Program (PPP).
Dangers of Cash Only Operations
When a business is denied access to regular banking services like processing debit and credit cards or writing checks, it leaves them vulnerable. Without a business bank account, state-regulated dispensaries, cultivators, and product producers are forced to operate only in cash. Having large amounts of cash on hand makes these businesses targets for armed robbery which on more than one occasion has resulted in the death of employees.
In the times of the COVID-19 pandemic, just handling cash is also potentially dangerous. While it is thought that the virus is most easily spread from person to person, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that it is possible to catch it from handling infected items like cash.
Contact Your Senators
It is imperative that you communicate with your Senators. Without hearing from you, the people they represent, they may not know how many people support the SAFE Banking Act. If you want to write an email or make a quick call, click here to find the contact information for your state’s Senators. Many Senators are also active on Twitter, so Tweet at them if that is your preferred method of communication.
Earlier this week, MassRoots obtained a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”), which has been critical to ensuring our employees are paid their regular salaries so they, in turn, have the money they need to support their families, cover medical bills, and pay rent. We believe that all cannabis-related businesses, both plant-touching and ancillary, should be able to obtain PPP loans in order to support the hundreds of thousands of employees that comprise the regulated cannabis industry.
Paycheck Protection Program Equality
We’re asking our supporters, both individuals and businesses, to take the following steps to raise awareness and help cannabis businesses obtain equal access to PPP funding:
- Tweet the reasons you support #PPPEquality to @realDonaldTrump, @PressSec and your Senators and Congressmen.
- Email the White House and President Trump’s campaign in support of #PPPEquality at [email protected] and [email protected].
- Call the White House at 202-456-1111 and your Senators and Congressmen in support of equal access to PPP funding.
- If you’re employed in the cannabis industry, please record a video testimonial on how PPP funding would impact your life. You can submit it here or Tweet it, tagging @realDonaldTrump, your Senators and Representatives, and using #PPPEquality.
- Post on Instagram, tagging the White House and your representatives, using #PPPEquality on the reasons why you support cannabis businesses having equal access to PPP loans.
Why is structural reform necessary?
When the U.S. federal government signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act into law on March 27, 2020, one of the measures included in the bill was the Paycheck Protection Program. The PPP is designed to help small businesses and their employees survive during the stay-at-home orders and trying times of the pandemic, which is affecting businesses from all markets.
The PPP website describes the initiative as:
“An SBA loan that helps businesses keep their workforce employed during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis,” and “a loan designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll.”
While cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, under the Controlled Substances Act, and the new law denies money from the CARES Act to businesses that are federally illegal, these businesses are not operating illegally at the state level. They are tightly regulated by the individual states.
Law-abiding, regulated cannabis businesses, whether plant touching or ancillary, and their employees should be granted the same access to government assistance as any other legally-operating business.
Now is the time to tell the U.S. government that you think the Paycheck Protection Program should be expanded to include cannabis businesses. Stand up for #PPPEquality with us and all of the other small businesses that make-up the regulated cannabis industry in the United States.