One of the U.S. Senate’s foremost champions for marijuana law reform says he is “disappointed” that fellow Democrats recently joined with Republicans in blocking his amendment to increase cannabis businesses’ access to banks.
Last month, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) offered a measure that would have shielded banks that open accounts for state-legal marijuana businesses from being punished by federal regulators for that activity even though cannabis remains illegal under federal law.
While the Senate Appropriations Committee had approved two similar amendments in previous years, the panel this time voted to table the measure with a bipartisan vote of 21 – 10, with ranking member Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and other Democrats who normally support marijuana reform objecting on procedural grounds.
“I was disappointed,” Merkley said in an interview with BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith on Monday. “We had passed this twice before.”
“We need to establish banking for cannabis because a cash economy is an invitation to money laundering and theft and cheating your employees and cheating on your taxes [and] organized crime. All bad.”
“I accompanied the owner of a company who had $70,000 in his backpack to pay quarterly taxes,” Merkley recounted in response to the cannabis banking question on Monday, which was suggested to BuzzFeed by Marijuana Moment’s editor. “It’s so bizarre going down the freeway and talking about how they have to pay their employees in cash, have to pay their suppliers in cash. It’s a bad system.”
“Everyone should agree: States’ rights on this. Let the states have an electronic system to track what these businesses are doing, not billions of dollars floating around like this.
Despite his disappointment with the measure being blocked, the Oregon Democrat, who is believed to be considering a 2020 presidential run, said that his colleagues “had a fair point to make on the policy front” in tabling the measure.
At the time, Leahy argued that spending bills such as the one before the committee should be kept “free of new controversial policy riders” and that a more appropriate forum would be an authorizing committee that sets banking laws.
“It wasn’t existing policy and therefore it was new policy,” Merkley acknowledged in the new interview.
But he pointed out that there are few other avenues available for senators to pursue the issue.
“Here’s the thing. Normally we could take these policy bills like I was putting forward [and] you could put it on the floor of the Senate as an amendment to something,” he said. “In 2017, outside of the budget process, not a single amendment was considered on the floor of the Senate… This is the end of the Senate really as a deliberative body on policy. So if you’re blocked in the Appropriations Committee, and you’re blocked on the floor, then it’s very hard to put ideas out there and say, ‘Hey vote on this. This matters.’”
The House Appropriations Committee also defeated a cannabis banking amendment last month.
See the video of Merkley’s remarks at about 19:15 into the clip below:
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
Sen. Jeff Merkley “Disappointed” That Democrats Blocked His Marijuana Banking Amendment
On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) became the latest cosponsor of far-reaching marijuana law reform legislation introduced by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).
Among other things, the bill would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and withhold federal funding from states with discriminatory enforcement of marijuana criminalization.
Merkley and Booker are hosting a Facebook Live chat about the bill, which you can learn more about here.
Watch Merkley and Booker discuss marijuana law reform below:
“More than half of the United States has enacted legislation allowing for either medical or adult-use of cannabis, yet federal law remains in conflict,” Merkley said in a press release. “This creates significant problems, not only with the prosecution of nonviolent cannabis crimes — which disproportionately hurts people of color — but also with lack of banking services for legally operating businesses. As long as financial institutions aren’t able to service cannabis enterprises, these businesses are forced to operate in an all-cash environment that’s unsafe and lacks accountability. This bill would place cannabis legalization in the hands of states — exactly where it should be.”
Several other Democratic senators have already signed onto the Marijuana Justice Act, most recently Kamala Harris of California.
Democratic Group Sees Political Value In Marijuana
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
Watch Cory Booker And Jeff Merkley Discuss Marijuana Legalization
An amendment introduced to the U.S. Senate in early July that would allow marijuana-related businesses in states with legalized cannabis to utilize federally-regulated banking services passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on July 23.
In a near-tie vote of 16-14, members of the committee narrowly approved the amendment that would prohibit the U.S. Treasury Department from taking legal action against banks that provide services to cannabis-related businesses. Three of the approving votes were from Republicans, while Dianne Feinstein of California was the only Democrat to oppose it.
The positive progress of the bill, sponsored by Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley and Washington Democrat Patty Murray, is evidence that the federal government may be willing to give a nod to state’s rights and even do something positive for the burgeoning cannabis industry. To date, federal authorities have either openly opposed or, at best, been neutral with regard to the wave of cannabis legalization sweeping the nation.
If passed, such a bill would make a tremendous difference to thousands of dispensaries and retail outlets in states like Oregon, Washington, and Colorado — not to mention dozens of other states that regulate medical marijuana production facilities and dispensary networks serving millions of patients.
This amendment isn’t the only effort pending in Congress that would recognize a state’s right to legalize marijuana by permitting banking services to the businesses that serve the industry. The Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2015 is a standalone bill that would accomplish the same basic goal. While it is pending in both the House and the Senate, it is unlikely to gain any movement during the current session of Congress.
Thus, in the near term, the amendment being sponsored by Merkley and Murray is the only viable solution to the banking and cashflow headaches that have plagued the marijuana industry since day one.
Passage of such a law would create major opportunities for entrepreneurs and ancillary services in an industry that has been relegated to dealing in cash or cryptocurrency, severely limiting opportunities for investments and compliance with tax regulations. A lack of banking services has also prevented dispensary customers from sliding a debit card at checkout instead of relying only on cold hard cash.
Formal banking services will also decrease the security burden of dispensaries and retail outlets, which current face the threat of theft due to the large amount of cash they handle.
This amendment exemplifies the fact that more than state-level legalization is necessary to allow a robust and thriving network of production facilities, manufacturing companies, medical dispensaries, retail outlets, and third-party service organizations.