• by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director September 25, 2019

    Members of the House of Representatives voted 321 to 103 in favor of HR 1595: The SAFE Banking Act, which amends federal law so that explicitly banks and other financial institutions may work directly with state-legal marijuana businesses. 

    Two-hundred and twenty-nine Democrats and 91 Republicans cast ‘yes’ votes in favor of the measure.

    This historic vote marks the first time ever that a chamber of Congress has ever held a successful floor vote on a stand-alone piece of marijuana reform legislation. 

    Today’s vote is a significant victory for the cannabis reform movement and here’s why: for the first time ever, a supermajority of the House voted affirmatively to recognize that the legalization and regulation of marijuana is a superior public policy to prohibition and criminalization. 

    Now we look to the Senate, where we are cautiously optimistic. Given the strong bipartisanship of the House vote, coupled with Senate Banking Chairman Mike Crapo’s recent pledge to hold a markup on this issue, we believe that Congress’ appetite to resolve this important issue has never been greater.

    But we are not done. In fact, we’re just getting started. 

    Why NORML Supports Passage of HR 1595: The Safe Banking Act:

    Federal law currently defines all marijuana-related endeavors as criminal enterprises, including those commercial activities that are licensed and legally regulated under state laws. Therefore, almost no state-licensed cannabis businesses can legally obtain a bank account, process credit cards, or provide loans to small businesses and entrepreneurs. 

    In this environment, the rapidly growing multi-billion dollar cannabis industry must operate largely on a cash-only basis, which makes businesses more susceptible to theft and more difficult to audit. This ongoing federal prohibition also places the safety and welfare of these businesses’ customers at risk, as they must carry significant amounts of cash on their persons in order to make legal purchases at retail facilities. For these reasons, NORML has long advocated that federal lawmakers vote “yes” on The SAFE Banking Act.

    What’s Next?

    Today’s vote is a significant first step, but it must not be the last. Much more action will still need to be taken by lawmakers. In the Senate, we demand that lawmakers in the Senate Banking Committee hold true to their commitment to move expeditiously in support of similar federal reforms. And in the House, we anticipate additional efforts to move forward and pass comprehensive reform legislation like The MORE Act — which is sponsored by the Chair of the House Judiciary — in order to ultimately comport federal law with the new political and cultural realities surrounding marijuana.

    Now Is the Time to Demand Congress Do MORE.

    Now that House members have overwhelmingly shown their support for HR 1595, it is time for them to address more comprehensive reform legislation, namely The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act.

    Introduced by House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the MORE Act is bipartisan legislation that removes the marijuana plant from the Controlled Substances Act, thereby descheduling the substance at the federal level and enabling states to set their own regulatory policies absent the threat of federal interference.

    But, perhaps most importantly, the MORE Act seeks to address many of the past wrongs of marijuana criminalization. Specifically, it would appropriate a portion of the federal taxes collected from the legal industry to pay for the expungement of past criminal records and to partially fund reentry services, job training, and community improvements in jurisdictions that have been most disproportionately impacted by war on marijuana. Furthermore, the MORE Act additional allocates a portion of the federal taxes collected to the Small Business Administration to support small businesses and entrepreneurs who seek to engage in the emerging legal marketplaces. 

    Strike while the iron is hot and send a message to your lawmakers in support of ending prohibition NOW!

    Take time today to tell your members of Congress that their work is far from over. Nearly one in four Americans now reside in a jurisdiction where the adult use of cannabis is legal and it is time for members of Congress to stand up for their rights and liberties. 

    Thank you again for your support for NORML and for being on the right side of history. We could never have gotten this far without you, and with your continued support we know that we can ultimately secure cannabis freedom in our time. 


    Our educational and advocacy efforts are supported by thousands of people throughout the country as we work to advance marijuana reform in all 50 states and the federal level. Can you kick in $5, $10 or $20 a month to help us keep going?

  • by NORML September 20, 2019

    Marijuana and Money

    Majority Leader Hoyer on Friday announced that members of the House are anticipated to hold a floor vote next week on The SAFE Banking Act (HR1595), which explicitly permits banks and other financial institutions to work directly with state-legal marijuana businesses.

    “The upcoming banking vote is an important first step by Congress, but in no way should it be the last,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal. “Much more action will still need to be taken by lawmakers, in particular efforts to move forward and pass comprehensive reform legislation like The MORE Act — which is sponsored by the Chair of the House Judiciary — in order to ultimately comport federal law with the new political and cultural realities surrounding marijuana.”

    Today, almost no state-licensed cannabis businesses can legally obtain a bank account, process credit cards, or take standard business deductions on their federal taxes. This is because federal law continues to inappropriately define all marijuana-related endeavors as criminal enterprises, including those commercial activities that are licensed and legally regulated under state laws.

  • by NORML July 23, 2019

    Earlier today, the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing on the SAFE Banking Act, which would allow financial institutions to engage in activities with state-legal cannabis businesses. 

    The hearing was entitled, “Challenges for Cannabis and Banking: Outside Perspectives.” Witnesses included Senators Cory Gardner (CO) and Jeff Merkley (OR) as well as the Chief Risk Officer of Maps Credit Union Rachel Pross, President and CEO of Citywide Banks  Joanne Sherwood (representing the American Bankers Association),  marijuana prohibitionist Garth Van Meter, and John Lord, the owner of a cannabis company.

    “Forcing businesses to operate in cash is an invitation to crime, money laundering, and robbery,” said U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, the lead sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act. “Whether you’re for or against legal cannabis, we all agree that we want our communities to be safe from fraud and crime. That’s why this legislation has significant bipartisan support in both houses of Congress. I’m pleased to see the momentum for this legislation continue to grow, and I’m going to keep fighting to get this legislation over the finish line in this Congress.”

    Testifying before the Committee, Senator Merkely thanked NORML for its work and assistance in his office compiling a list of over 100 personal stories that he submitted about how the banking prohibition has impacted them. 

    Commenting on the hearing, NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said, “We duly recognize that better access to banking is necessary in order for the legal marijuana market to become more transparent and more convenient for customers.” 

    “No industry can operate safely, transparently, or effectively without access to banks or other financial institutions and it is self-evident that this industry, and the consumers that are served by it, will remain severely hindered without better access to credit, financing, banking, and payment processing,” Strekal continued. “Ultimately, Congress must amend federal policy so that the growing number of state-compliant businesses, and the millions of Americans who patronize them, are no longer subject to policies that needlessly place them in harm’s way. Cannabis businesses ought to be held to the same standards as any other commercial enterprises.”


  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director June 4, 2019

    In a change of trajectory, the powerful Appropriations Committee in the House of Representatives has for the first time included limited protections for cannabis businesses engaged in the legal marketplaces in 33 states.

    Included in the appropriations package are two sections that address the growing tension between the federal prohibition and criminalization of marijuana and the emerging state legal marketplaces, as well as one deleterious section of language that is currently in effect which is omitted in the new version of the bill.

    State Legal Medical Programs

    Since 2014, there has been a spending restriction that prevents the Department of Justice from spending one penny or paperclip to take action against state-legal medical cannabis programs. This language was first introduced to the House in 2001 and for the first time in history, it is now included in what is referred to as “the base text,” meaning that its inclusion did not require a vote.

    SAFE Banking

    As many who live in legal states know, cannabis businesses have a real banking problem – primarily that they do not have bank accounts. This leads to the industry operating on an all-cash basis, proving a difficult and undue burden on both businesses and consumers. This language has been approved by multiple votes yet stripped out during the bicameral conference committees in 2014, 2015, and 2016. This year marks the first time that this language was included in the base text.

    DC Legalization Implementation

    In 2014, residents of the District of Columbia voted overwhelmingly to end prohibition and criminalization in order to pave the way for the city council to implement a regulated marketplace for adult-use cannabis. Yet the Republican House at the time, led by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), decided to interfere and prevent DC from self-determination on this issue. The only reason why Congress was able to take this action against the city and not similarily against other states that have legalized was due to the disenfranchisement of DC residents stemming from their legal status as a territory and not an independent state. The FY2020 Appropriations Bill marks the first time that this language has not been included in a House appropriations package.


    We’ll keep you posted as things continue to unfold. In the meantime, please visit our Action Center and contact your federal lawmakers in support of pending reform efforts at NORML.org/ACT.

  • by NORML March 28, 2019

    In the first of what is anticipated to be multiple Congressional votes to address the federal prohibition and criminalization of marijuana, the House Financial Services Committee today voted to advance The SAFE Banking Act, HR 1595, 45-15.

    Currently, thousands of state-licensed and regulated businesses lack access to the banking industry and are unable to accept credit cards, deposit revenues, or write checks to meet payroll or pay taxes because federal law discourages financial institutions from engaging in such partnerships. This ongoing federal prohibition forces this newly emerging billion-dollar industry operates largely on a cash-only basis — an environment that makes businesses more susceptible to theft and more difficult to audit. It also places the safety and welfare of these business’ customers at risk, as they must carry significant amounts of cash on their persons in order to make legal purchases at retail facilities.

    Help us keep up the momentum on the way to the House floor. Contact your representative today using our action alert HERE.

    NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said:

    “This is a positive step forward to address an untenable tension between state-legal cannabis marketplaces and federal marijuana prohibition. No industry can operate safely, transparently, or effectively without access to banks or other financial institutions. In order to best support the states that have had the good judgment to license and regulate businesses to produce, manufacture, or distribute cannabis, it is critical that Congress address the lack of basic banking services and amend federal law accordingly and the SAFE Banking Act is one pathway to address this situation.”

    “Ultimately, the banking issue is just one symptom of the toxic and cruel policy of federal marijuana criminalization. In order to truly bring the vibrant marijuana economy out of the shadows, actions need to be taken by Congress to end federal prohibition and the discrimination the comes with this failed policy.”

    “This will certainly not be the last hearing of this Congress to have a high-minded conversation about marijuana and we expect a full hearing on prohibition to be scheduled in the months to come.”

    Committee Chair Maxine Waters stated:

    “Though it is just one component of broader reforms that are needed to, that are related to marijuana. I have long fought for criminal justice reform, and deeply understand the need to fully address the historic racial and social inequities related to the criminalization of marijuana. While H.R. 1595 is the only aspect of these efforts that are within the committee’s jurisdiction, as the bill moves forward, it must be a part of holistic approach to considering these reforms. In short, Congress must take the long view that all these efforts – and I will work to ensure that when it comes to passing H.R. 1595 that the House does not take a ‘one and done’ approach but that we will also comprehensively work especially with our colleagues on the Judiciary Committee on a series of marijuana related reforms. So I would urge all of my colleagues so support H.R. 1595.”

    Representative Ed Perlmutter commented:

    “The SAFE Banking Act is about public safety, accountability and respecting states’ rights. Our federal banking laws were designed to prevent illicit activity and help law enforcement do their jobs. These laws need to be applied to legitimate marijuana businesses and employees in order to improve transparency and accountability and help root out illegal transactions. Most importantly, the SAFE Banking Act will get cash off our streets, reducing the risk of violent crime and making our communities safer. While Congress has stuck its head in the sand on this issue for many years, this Committee showed leadership today and I want to thank my cosponsors and members of the Committee for their support.”

    Representative Earl Blumenauer (Founder and Co-Chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus) said: 

    “This is the most significant step we’ve seen so far toward addressing our outdated federal marijuana policies. We’ve actually gone through the process, fully debated, and seen broad bipartisan support. I applaud the outstanding work of Chairwoman Waters and Representatives Heck and Perlmutter for making this possible. The SAFE Banking Act solves a major problem for the state legal cannabis industry and its success moving through the committee is a signal of how we can move forward with other critical proposals.”

    According to the most recent FBI Uniform Crime Report, police made 659,700 arrests for marijuana-related violations in 2017. That total is more than 21 percent higher than the total number of persons arrests for the commission of violent crimes (518,617) in 2017. Of those arrested for marijuana crimes, just under 91 percent (599,000) were arrested for marijuana possession offenses, a slight increase over last year’s annual totals. Total marijuana arrests in 2017 increased for the second straight year, after having fallen for nearly a decade.

    Thirty-three states, Washington, D.C. and the U.S. territories of Guam and Puerto Rico have enacted legislation specific to the physician-authorized use of cannabis. Moreover, an estimated 73 million Americans now reside in the ten states where anyone over the age of 21 may possess cannabis legally. An additional fifteen states have passed laws specific to the possession of cannabidiol (CBD) oil for therapeutic purposes.

    Sixty-eight percent of registered voters “support the legalization of marijuana,” according to 2018 national polling data compiled by the Center for American Progress. The percentage is the highest level of support for legalization ever reported in a nationwide, scientific poll.

    Majorities of Democrats (77 percent), Independents (62 percent), and Republicans (57 percent) back legalization. The results of a 2017 nationwide Gallup poll similarly found majority support among all three groups.

    To date, these statewide regulatory programs are operating largely as voters and politicians intended. The enactment of these policies have not negatively impacted workplace safety, crime rates, traffic safety, or youth use patterns. They have stimulated economic development and created hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax revenue.

    Specifically, a 2019 report estimates that over 211,000 Americans are now working full-time in the cannabis industry. Tax revenues from states like Colorado, Oregon, and Washington now exceed initial projections. Further, numerous studies have identified an association between cannabis access and lower rates of opioid use, abuse, hospitalizations, and mortality.

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