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Banking

  • by NORML March 19, 2019

    In the first in what are anticipated to be multiple Congressional hearings to address the federal prohibition and criminalization of marijuana, the House Financial Services Committee has scheduled to convene a markup on The Safe Banking Act, HR 1595 on Tuesday, March 26th.

    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.

    NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said:

    “This situation is untenable. 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.

    “The banking issue is just one aspect of the failed policy of federal marijuana criminalization. In order to truly bring the marijuana industry out of the shadows, actions need to be taken by Congress to amend this, and many others, outdated and discriminatory practices.

    “This will certainly not be the last hearing of this Congress to discuss marijuana prohibition and we expect a full hearing on prohibition to be scheduled in the months to come.”

    The sponsor of The SAFE Banking Act, Congressman Ed Perlmutter said, “For six years, Congress has failed to act on the issue of cannabis banking, putting thousands of employees, businesses, and communities at risk. However, the issue is finally receiving the attention it deserves with the first-ever congressional hearing and now a scheduled committee vote. With 97.7% of the U.S. population living in a state where voters have legalized some form of adult recreational, medical or limited-medical use of marijuana, congressional inaction is no longer an option. And with broad, bipartisan support in the House, I look forward to the SAFE Banking Act continuing to move forward in the Financial Services Committee and on the floor of the House.”

    You can send a message to your member of Congress in support of The SAFE Banking Act here. 

    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.

    Send a message to your member of Congress in support of The SAFE Banking Act now!

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director March 8, 2019

    Lawmakers in several states have recently moved forward legislative proposals to either legalize or decriminalize marijuana-related activities. Here is a look at where some of these efforts currently stand.

    LEGALIZATION

    New Hampshire: By a margin of 209 to 147, House members voted late last week in favor of House Bill 481, which legalizes the possession and cultivate of personal use quantities of cannabis by adults, and establishes a licensed system of commercial production and retail sales. The measure awaits action in the Senate and faces opposition from Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who has pledged to veto any legalization bill, “regardless of what the language looks like.”

    New Mexico: Members of the House voted 36 to 34 in favor of HB 356, which establishes a system of licenses, state-run marijuana retailers. Members of the Senate have until March 16 to act on the bill.

    Vermont: Members of the Senate last week passed SB 54 by a vote of 23 to 5. The measure expands existing law to permit the state-licensed production and sale of cannabis to those age 21 or older. The measure now awaits action from members of the House.

    DECRIMINALIZATION:

    Hawaii: House members approved HB 1383, which removes criminal penalties for minor marijuana possession offenses (up to three grams) and expunges past criminal convictions. The measure now heads to the Senate.

    New Mexico: Members of the Senate on Tuesday voted 30 to 8 in favor of SB 323, which reduces possession penalties for the possession of up to one-half ounce of cannabis to a $50 fine and no criminal record. It now goes to the House for further action.

    OTHER REFORM BILLS

    Florida: Senate members this week overwhelmingly approved legislation, SB 182, to lift the ban on the smoking of medical cannabis and/or the possession of herbal formulations of the plant. House members are expected to address the measure on Wednesday.

    New Mexico: Members of the Senate overwhelmingly (33 to 2) passed SB 406 to expand greater medical access and to limit discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere against qualified patients. It now awaits action from the House.

    Virginia: Legislation is before the Governor to expand the pool of health professionals who can approve cannabis therapy to include nurse practitioners and physician assistants. The measure, SB 1557, also permits qualifying patients access to a broader spectrum of products containing both plant-derived CBD and THC.

    West Virginia: Legislation (HB 2538) to facilitate banking access for the medical cannabis industry is awaiting action from the Governor. If signed into law, it mandates that the “Commissioner of Financial Institutions shall not prohibit, penalize, incentivize, or otherwise impair a financial institution from providing services to a person or entity involved in a medical cannabis-related business.”

    For a complete summary of marijuana-specific bills pending statewide, visit NORML’s Legislative Action Center here.

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director February 27, 2019

    As the tentacles of the federal policy of cannabis prohibition run deep into nearly every sector of American public policy, a new voice emerged to call for clarity regarding state-legal cannabis marketplaces: Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell.

    Currently, almost none of the businesses operating in the cannabis space can legally obtain a bank account, process a credit card, or take a standard business deduction 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.

    “My home state of New Jersey is moving towards legalization of recreational marijuana, and I have concerns that these new businesses as well as the existing medical marijuana businesses in the state will continue to find themselves shut out of the banking system,” said Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) at the semiannual monetary policy hearing. “And when these businesses are forced to operate exclusively in cash, they create serious public safety concerns.”

    To which, Federal Reserve Chairman Powell replied, “I think it would be great to have clarity. It puts financial institutions in a very difficult place and puts the supervisors in a difficult place, too. It would be nice to have clarity on that supervisory relationship.”

    Clarity can mean a lot of things, but what should be the cornerstone of any major marijuana reform is a removal of cannabis itself from the Controlled Substances Act.

    By removing marijuana from the CSA, the roadblocks to banking access, capital, and other issues associated with the nascent industry would be eliminated. Not to mention it would mark the end of the failed and shameful criminalization of cannabis possession by otherwise law-abiding adults.

    Ultimately, Congress must amend federal policy so that these growing numbers of state-compliant businesses, and those 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 other commercial enterprises.

    Earlier this month, NORML submitted testimony to this effect in a House Financial Services Committee hearing, which you can read HERE.

    You can watch the exchange below.

  • by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director February 14, 2019

    The House Financial Services subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions held a hearing Wednesday to address the lack of access to basic banking services by state-legal marijuana businesses.

    Currently, state-licensed marijuana businesses face a web of conflicting regulations and federal prohibitions largely prohibit these businesses from partnering with financial institutions, processing credit cards, and taking standard business deductions.

    NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano submitted written congressional testimony, which you can read here.

    NORML Political Director Justin Strekal published on op-ed on the topic in The Hill Newspaper, entitled Businesses need bank accounts — marijuana shops included.

    You can share the op-ed on Facebook by clicking here and on Twitter by clicking here.

    One of the best ways to speed up marijuana legalization is by allowing the existing companies access to basic banking services and it is encouraging to see Congress begin the conversation.

    You can watch the hearing below.