On Thursday, The United States House of Representatives reintroduced a critical cannabis banking bill. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Steve Stivers (R-OH), Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), and Warren Davidson (R-OH) brought the SAFE banking act back to the House along with the support of over 100 additional cosponsors. The bill, which is expected to effortlessly advance, previously passed the house in 2019 and 2020 but was squashed by the Republican-controlled senate. However, now that Democrats control both the White House and Senate, the bill has a real chance of passing.
What Is The SAFE Banking Act?
The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act would allow legitimate cannabis businesses acting within the confines of the law access to the same banking services as other companies.
Currently, despite the industry generating millions of dollars in tax revenue, cannabis entrepreneurs are seen more like criminals in the in the eyes of major financial institutions. Not only are cannabis operations effectively barred from traditional lending, but it’s also nearly impossible for these businesses to legally open a bank account. As a result, dispensaries and other cannabis businesses are obligated to deal primarily in cash-only transactions, making them prime targets for criminals. According to Representative Perlmutter,
“Thousands of employees and businesses across this country have been forced to deal in piles of cash for far too long. It is the responsibility of Congress to step up and take action to align federal and state laws for the safety of our constituents and communities.”
The bill remains largely the same as it was in 2019 and 2020, but with added language that explicitly includes hemp and CBD businesses as well as additional clarification on safe harbor laws and cannabis insurance.
The SAFE Banking Act’s Path Forward
In 2019, The SAFE Banking Act was introduced as a stand-alone bill. Despite overwhelmingly passing the House, it would never see the Senate floor. A year later, House Democrats attempted to embed the bill in part of their larger Coronavirus relief package, pointing out the inherent dangers of operating an “essential business” in a cash-only capacity during the height of a catastrophic pandemic. After considerable criticism from Republicans, the House eventually dropped the SAFE Banking Act from the relief bill’s final draft. Perlmutter harkened back to this subject in his Thursday address, saying,
“In many states, the industry was deemed essential yet forced to continue to operate in all cash, adding a significant public health risk for businesses and their workers. As we begin our economic recovery, allowing cannabis businesses to access the banking system would also mean an influx of cash into the economy and the opportunity to create good-paying jobs.”
The Senate is expected to introduce its own version of the bill this week. For the last two years, this is where the SAFE Banking Act has predominantly run into challenges. However, this time around, the Senate has a more favorable makeup—split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, with Vice President Kamala Harris acting as the tiebreaker. Perlmutter remains optimistic the bill will make it all the way to President Biden’s desk. He said,
“I think this is going to get a full legislative review, and we’re going to get a good product, a good piece of legislation, and send it to the White House.”
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.
This year’s U.S. Senate race in Nevada has become one of the most watched of the cycle, and marijuana is increasingly a central issue as Congresswoman Jacky Rosen (D) ramps up her challenge to incumbent Sen. Dean Heller (R).
During the campaign, Rosen has consistently drawn attention to what she says is Heller’s lack of pushback against U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s moves to rescind protections for state cannabis laws.
Rosen herself had written to Sessions in January, urging him to reverse his decision to end Obama-era guidance on the issue — known as the Cole Memorandum — that generally allowed states the freedom to enact legalization and regulate their own cannabis industries without federal interference.
Meanwhile, Heller also made a statement in response to Session’s decision: “Knowing Attorney General Sessions’ deference to states’ rights, I strongly encourage the DOJ to meet with Governor Sandoval and Attorney General Laxalt to discuss the implications of changes to federal marijuana enforcement policy. I also urge the DOJ to work with the congressional delegations from states like Nevada that have legalized marijuana as they review and navigate the new policy.”
However, as Rosen pointed out in January, Heller is the only Republican senator up for re-election this year who’s both from an adult use cannabis state and also voted to confirm Sessions as attorney general.
On various counts, Rosen has vocalized her support for legal marijuana — citing benefits like job creation and tax revenue — as well as her commitment to protecting state cannabis industries from federal interference, all while simultaneously attacking Heller for his relative passivity on the issue.
In addition to public commentary, Rosen has taken a stand by cosponsoring several congressional bills relating to cannabis, including the STATES Act to strengthen states’ rights on marijuana, the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2018, the SAFE Act of 2017 to secure banking for the cannabis industry and the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, as well as legislation to ensure tax fairness for cannabis businesses and to remove roadblocks to marijuana research.
“Nevada voters chose to legalize recreational marijuana in 2016, and states like Nevada have shown that allowing responsible adults to purchase marijuana legally supports our state budget, creates new jobs and businesses, and drives our economy instead of making our broken criminal justice system worse,” Rosen said in a press release about signing on to the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act. “I believe it’s time to end the federal prohibition on marijuana, start regulating this product like alcohol, and get rid of barriers for states like ours where voters have made this decision to move forward.”
Though publicly less vehement on the issue than Rosen is, Heller has cosponsored a handful of cannabis bills during his time in the Senate, namely the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2015 and the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act of 2015.
But he has not signed onto the CARERS Act or the banking bill in their current iterations during the 115th Congress.
Though Heller has discussed cannabis under the umbrella of states’ rights, in 2007, as a House member, he voted against an amendment shielding state medical marijuana laws from federal interference.
By 2015, Heller made a statement that “the time has come for the federal government to stop impeding the doctor-patient relationship in states that have decided their own medical marijuana policies.”
Meanwhile, NORML gave Heller a B grade in its congressional scorecard last year. Rosen will receive an A in the organization’s forthcoming analysis of the current Congress, and Heller is being downgraded to a C for “not representing his constituents,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment.
Since January, Rosen has been active on Twitter, posting about marijuana at least two dozen times. Heller, on the other hand, has not tweeted anything on cannabis issues.
Two years ago, Nevada voters approved legalization by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent. This year, it could end up being the case that a contrast on cannabis issues makes the difference in what is expected to be a very close Senate race.
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
Marijuana Emerges As Key Issue In Nevada U.S. Senate Race