Lawmakers talk next steps for marijuana banking as industry group launches new ads highlighting harms of cash-only sales

On Wednesday, three congressional lawmakers participated in a briefing on the way forward for marijuana banking reform, reaffirming the urgent need for policy change as a public safety and economic equity issue and addressing the political “momentum” that they built to finally adopt the reform.

The event, hosted by the US Cannabis Council (USCC), coincided with the release of two new industry advertisements that highlight the consequences of the status quo for small businesses and violent crime targeting marijuana stores in money-intensive who are largely excluded from the traditional financial system.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) spoke at the event about the two House-passed vehicles containing the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which he sponsors, which “now sit in the Senate.” There is a stand-alone bill, as well as an amendment included in the defense legislation that must be passed.

He added that the reform could also be incorporated into a broader set of additional cannabis policy proposals that are being discussed in bicameral and bipartisan offices.

The congressman said the passage of the measure was necessary “so that we can reduce the danger that people in the cannabis industry face.”

During the briefing, the USCC showed an advertisement featuring the father of a son, Jordon Brown, who was killed in a robbery at a Washington marijuana store.

“These cash-based businesses must live in fear because our government will not give them the same right as every other business: their ability to use credit cards,” said father, Dennis Brown, who also spoke at the event. said. “There were a lot of casualties because of that. My son was the ultimate victim. He lost his life.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), who is the lead sponsor of the Senate version of the SAFE Banking Act, said the current federal policy prohibiting the participation of legal marijuana businesses in the mainstream financial system “is an invitation to armed robbery”. .”

“Jordan lost his life because of this invitation, and his experience is certainly not an isolated one,” the senator said, pushing back on criticism from some advocates who have argued that the marijuana banking legislation doesn’t would help only big companies instead of small operators. “It’s not about Wall Street. This is Main Street America.

To that end, the second USCC ad focuses on small business owners and regulators in Washington state, where there has been a spate of cannabis business thefts in recent months.

“As small business owners, they are told that they are the lifeblood of the American economy,” the narrator says. “They join other small business owners across the country who account for 64% of new jobs created in America. But for them and others who run legal cannabis dispensaries, the acts of violence occurring in their businesses put them, their employees and their customers at risk every day.

During the briefing, Merkley implored his supporters to thank the 42 senators who co-sponsored the Senate version of the SAFE Banking Act, including the nine Republican members who signed the legislation.

“But we have a challenge – and it’s a challenge to have a broader perspective of also doing penal reforms with SAFE Banking,” he said.

“Now I support these penal reforms,” ​​Merkley said, adding that while he supports a recently introduced bill to legalize marijuana federally from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and his colleagues, he does not currently have the same level of bipartisan support to pass this session.

Schumer and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) have been particularly adamant about pushing forward full legalization before allowing a vote on the SAFE standalone banking law. But with time running out to do something about the issue before the end of the year, senators have begun to consider alternative legislative approaches more openly.

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For example, Schumer held high-level bipartisan and bicameral discussions on advancing a set of progressive cannabis reform measures, including the banking sector, even as he touted the new law on the administration and Cannabis Opportunities (CAOA) which would enact legalization more broadly.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a leading advocate for marijuana reform on Capitol Hill, said during Wednesday’s briefing that he recently had a “great conversation” about the banking issue with Booker. , who he says is “trying to be able to thread the needle.

“He was one of the few senators who was there with us from the beginning on the whole legalization effort and he has a vision of what is right,” Blumenauer said. “He understands how destructive the failure of the policy of prohibition has been, especially for people of color, destroying the lives of a million young African American men, and I think he is looking for ways to simultaneously advance some of the equity issues.”

The congressman also spoke generally about the “momentum” that has been building around the issue, noting that the House has twice passed a legalization bill and just on Tuesday approved a modest cannabis research bill he sponsored with Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD).

“One of the areas that has been most important in building momentum has been the SAFE Banking Act – and I try to reinforce it every chance I get because we have to put end to the failed war on drugs and the manifestation of dysfunction, the dimension that is so painful,” Blumenauer said. “Irrationality deprives state-legal cannabis companies of access to banking services.”

“I am confident that if the Senate leadership allowed us to vote on the SAFE Banking Bill, we would have over 60 affirmative votes” to pass in the chamber, the congressman said. Passage of the banking legislation would be “the precursor to our ability to end the failed policy, the war on drugs. This will be the way forward for full legalization.

“If we are able to move SAFE Banking, not only will we solve this horrible problem of injustice of inequality, of public safety, but we will break the deadlock in terms of cannabis legislation, because there is no there will be no doubt where people are after they have to vote on it, and you will find that more people will vote.

Perlmutter, for his part, said in a recent interview that he believes the introduction of CAOA alone in the Senate means lawmakers have overcome a legislative “hurdle” that has prevented SAFE Banking from moving forward in the chamber.

Meanwhile, the third-highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate, Deputy Majority Leader Patty Murray (D-WA) signed on with the CAOA after it was introduced, but in a statement she also stressed that lawmakers must enact the bipartisan banking bill in the meantime. .

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