A bipartisan coalition of state treasurers from 15 states (and one territory) are pushing for Congress to include marijuana banking protections and reform in a future coronavirus relief package. In July, the group sent a letter to congressional leadership. Contents included pressuring for inclusion of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in any coronavirus-related legislation sent to the president’s desk for signature.
Cannabis advocates — including lawmakers — have been busy trying to drum up support that marijuana banking protections can help slow the spread of COVID-19. Cannabis workers are, by default, forced to deal primarily with cash. Passage of the SAFE Banking Act would reduce the use of cash and, in theory, would serve as a way to mitigate the opportunities for people to come into contact with the virus.
The group called out Republican leaders for being out of touch with the issue, encouraging the addition of banking reform to boost the economy with fresh capital while simultaneously working to protect cannabis workers. While the House included the SAFE Banking Act in the relief bill passed in May, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other top GOP officials criticized House Democrats for including the cannabis banking provision. Negotiations on a pending COVID-19 stimulus package have fizzled out.
Businesses involved in the marijuana industry have been kept out of obtaining federal COVID-19 relief funds due to the federal stance on marijuana. In other words, it’s still illegal federally, so cannabis is still a no-go when it comes to any federal funds.
The Democratic Treasurers Association, in a recent press release, included a reminder that the SAFE Banking Act shows bipartisan support; it passed in the House last September with a vote of 321-103. Oregon, which legalized cannabis for adult recreational use in 2014, classified cannabis as ‘essential’ during the pandemic. Oregon State Treasurer, Tobias Read, made a statement in the press release.”Despite support from Congressional Democrats and Republicans across red and blue states, Vice President Pence and Senate Leader McConnell are stuck in the past, parroting outdated rhetoric that falls far short of the leadership we need in the middle of a global public health and economic crisis.”
“The 28,000 cannabis-related legitimate businesses and their nearly 250,000 employees, who already faced significant burdens before the pandemic, are now confronting dangerous new obstacles as they attempt to address the changed circumstances,” Colorado State Treasurer Dave Young (D) said in the press release. “Bringing cannabis businesses into the regulated financial system makes customers, employees, and communities safer.”
All is not lost, however. There’s still the SAFE Banking Act bill that passed the House last year. Whether or not it’s acted on in the future is uncertain. The bill has been in limbo for months, sitting in the Senate Banking Committee. At the same time, legislators debate over the details in the proposal.