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  • by NORML May 19, 2020

    Attorneys General from 34 states and territories sent a letter today to Congressional leadership urging members to expeditiously pass The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act so that state-licensed cannabis business can explicitly engage in relationships with banks and other financial institutions.

    In their letter, AGs opine: “The current predicament of a rapidly expanding national marketplace without access to the national banking systems has resulted in an untenable situation. We stress that current legislative models are available to fix this situation. In advancing these legislative goals, Congress is not necessarily endorsing any state or territory’s legalization of marijuana-related transactions; similarly, the enactment of the SAFE Banking Act is not a call for the legalization of medical or retail marijuana in those jurisdictions that choose not to pursue such an approach. Rather, it reflects a recognition of the realities on the ground and an embrace of our federalist system of government that is flexible enough to accommodate divergent state approaches.”

    They further acknowledge that the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened need for Congress to act quickly. “The COVID-19 pandemic has sharply focused the need for legislative relief in three key respects,” they write. “First, threats to public safety caused by a cash-intensive business model, often the target of criminal activity, have intensified in the months since the pandemic began. Next, the presence of large cash transactions places law enforcement, tax regulators, consumers, and patients at heightened risk of exposure to the virus. Finally, the ability to efficiently collect tax revenue from the marijuana industry, estimated to have generated $15 billion in sales in 2019, will provide critical relief for state and local governments predicting budget shortfalls due to the pandemic.”

    Currently, federal laws mandate that this rapidly growing legal industry operates 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 businesses’ employees, customers, and patients at risk, as they must carry significant amounts of cash on their persons in order to make legal purchases at retail facilities or via recently authorized delivery services.

    NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said, “The need to provide federal legitimacy to the emerging state-legal cannabis industry is paramount in an era where marijuana has been deemed ‘essential’ in the majority of jurisdictions where its commerce is regulated. This is only further highlighted by the bipartisan nature of the makeup of the 34 Attorneys General who signed this most recent letter. Passage of the SAFE Banking Act would represent a significant step forward towards a rational and evidence-based national cannabis policy.”

    The AGs from the following US states and territories signed the letter: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Northern Mariana Islands, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

    Members of the House of Representatives in November voted 321 to 103 in favor of the Act. More recently, House members again approved the legislation, which was included in the proposed COVID-19 relief package, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act.

  • by NORML July 17, 2019

    Members of the United States Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs are scheduled to hear testimony next week regarding the need to provide greater access to financial services for state-licensed marijuana-related businesses.

    The Senate hearing, titled “Challenges for Cannabis and Banking: Outside Perspectives,” will take place on Tuesday, July 23, at 10am est. It marks the first time that members of the Senate have explicitly discussed the need for marijuana-related banking reform.

    Federal law and regulations currently discourage banks and other financial institutions from working directly with state-licensed cannabis businesses. According to recently published data from the US Treasury Department, fewer than 500 financial institutions nationwide currently provide services to cannabis-specific establishments.

    Members of the House Committee on Financial Services, Subcommittee on Consumer Protections and Financial Institutions previously heard testimony on the issue in February. NORML submitted written testimony to Congress at that time opining: “For an industry seeking legitimacy and requiring transparency, the inability to obtain banking and credit access remains a primary but unnecessary roadblock. In order to truly bring the marijuana industry out of the shadows, actions need to be taken by Congress to amend these outdated and discriminatory practices.” (Read NORML’s full testimony here.)

    Legislation (HR 1595 | S 1200 – The SAFE Banking Act) is pending in both chambers to create new federal protections for financial operators who work with state-compliant marijuana businesses. The House version of the Act, which was passed out of Committee earlier this year, has over 200 Congressional co-sponsors while the Senate version has 31 cosponsors.

    Speaking in support of the pending legislation, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said, “Federal lawmakers are mandating that this billion-dollar industry operate largely on a cash-only basis – an environment that makes businesses more susceptible to theft and more difficult to audit.” He added: “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 those consumers that are served by it, will remain severely hampered without better access to credit and financing. 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 harms way.”

    Additional information on The SAFE (The Secure and Fair Enforcement) Banking Act is available online here.

  • 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 Danielle Keane, NORML Associate December 16, 2015

    Members of Congress this morning unveiled the 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill, legislation that is responsible for funding the federal government through the 2016 fiscal year.  While stand alone marijuana related bills rarely gain traction in Congress, the annual omnibus appropriations bill has become a tool for federal lawmakers to pass marijuana related language into annual spending guidelines.

    In last week’s Legislative Round Up, we covered five distinct marijuana provisions that lawmakers sought to include in the final draft of the 2016 spending bill.

    We now know that two of these provisions have been included in the omnibus appropriations bill. One measure prevents the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. The other measure prevents the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state industrial hemp research programs. Both measures were initially passed by Congress in 2015, but required reauthorization to extend into 2016.

    Unfortunately, separate provisions permitting doctors with the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to military veterans, and to prevent the V.A. from denying services to veterans because they are state recognized medical marijuana patients were eliminated from the final bill. Senate-backed language seeking to authorize financial institutions to engage in relationships with state-licensed marijuana business was also rejected from the final bill.  

    Lastly, language prohibiting the District of Columbia from taxing and selling marijuana was included in the annual spending for the second year in the row. Current law allows for residents to grow, possess and share marijuana. But the sale and promotion will be prohibited for at least another year.

    While we see success in having kept in place protections for state sponsored medical marijuana and hemp programs, it is nonetheless disappointing that members of Congress continue to unnecessarily insert themselves into a doctor-patient relationship with our country’s veterans and continue to deny licensed businesses access to needed banking services.

    No ground has been lost, but Congress should know we’ll be back next year to gain more.

  • by Danielle Keane, NORML Associate July 23, 2015

    Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 16-14 today in favor of an aUS_capitolmendment to allow state-compliant marijuana businesses to engage in relationships with financial institutions.

    Sponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D) of Oregon and Patty Murray (D) of Washington, the amendment to the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill prohibits the US Treasury Department from using federal funds to take punitive actions against banks that provide financial services to marijuana-related businesses that are operating legally under state laws.

    Presently, most major financial institutions refuse to provide services to state-compliant operators in the marijuana industry out of fear of federal repercussions. Their refusal to do so presents an unnecessary risk to both those who operate in the legal marijuana industry and to those consumers who patronize it.

    No industry can operate safely, transparently or effectively without access to banks or other financial institutions. Further, forcing state-licensed businesses to operate on a ‘cash-only’ basis increases the risks for crime and fraud.

    It is time for Congress to change federal policy so that this growing number of state-compliant businesses, and their consumers, may operate in a manner that is similar to other legal commercial entities. Today’s Senate Committee vote marks the first step taken by Congress to address these federal policy deficiencies.

    Although stand-alone legislation, The Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2015, is pending in both the House and the Senate, it appears unlikely at this time that leadership will move forward with either bill. This means that the Merkley/Murray amendment is like to be reformer’s best opportunity this Congress to impose substantial banking reform.

    Keep following NORML’s blog and Take Action Center for legislative updates as this and other relevant reform measures progress. To take action in support of the Merkley/Murray amendment, click here here.

    The following Senators voted in favor of the Merkley/Murray amendment:

    Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
    Bill Cassidy (R-LA)
    Christopher Coons (D-DE)
    Dick Durbin (D-IL)
    Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
    Steve Daines (R-MT)
    Chris Murphy (D-CT)
    Jack Reed (D-RI)
    Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
    Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
    Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
    Patty Murray (D-WA)
    Brian Schatz (D-HI)
    Jon Tester (D-MT)
    Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)
    Tom Udall (D-NM)

    And these Senators voted against the Merkley/Murray amendment:

    Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
    Roy Blunt (R-MO)
    John Boozman (R-AK)
    Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)
    Thad Cochran (R-MS)
    Susan Collins (R-ME)
    Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
    Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
    John Hoeven (R-ND)
    Mark Kirk (R-IL)
    James Lankford (R-OK)
    Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
    Jerry Moran (R-KS)
    Richard C. Shelby (R-AL)

     

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