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Banking

  • 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.

  • 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.

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