Banking as a small cannabis business in the US is more than a matter of trial-and-error and extreme difficulty, it is a matter of safety. The small operators – especially those minority-owned cannabis businesses – face the threat of robbery daily as they consistently work with cash due to their denial of access to banking alternatives for cannabis businesses. We have seen so many advances in cannabis legislation in the past few months, that it is absolutely essential that action is taken to protect these small cannabis businesses, which is why congressional leaders, like Blumenauer and Perlmutter, continue to push the SAFE Banking Act.
A Letter To Congress
Two key lawmakers wrote a letter on Wednesday, 27 April 2022, urging cannabis banking reform to be included in the final large-scale manufacturing and innovation bill package that will be discussed by bicameral negotiators.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a longtime cannabis reform advocate who was appointed as a conferee on the America COMPETES Act, and Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), the lead sponsor of marijuana banking legislation that has passed his chamber six times in various forms, sent this crucial letter urging the inclusion of the SAFE Banking Act to House and Senate leadership and conferees.
According to Blumenauer, addressing the irrational, disproportionate, and dangerous denial of banking services to state-legal cannabis businesses should be a top priority, and as such, the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act must be included in its entirety in the America COMPETES Act’s final conference committee report. This legislation is critical for small businesses, particularly those owned and operated by persons of color, as well as those who have already been penalized as part of the War on Drugs. And he is not alone in his belief.
Support For Cannabis Banking Reform
The Senate’s third-highest-ranking Democrat and a conferee, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), visited a credit union for an event where she reaffirmed her support for the SAFE Act and discussed her intentions to push for policy change to be implemented as soon as possible.
Another conferee, House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), has named the SAFE Banking Act as a priority area of focus for the negotiations.
Why Cannabis Banking Reform?
There is a consistent trend that small-scale cannabis businesses, especially those owned and operated by people of color, are denied access to banking opportunities that are available to large operators and independently wealthy operators. As a result, many small enterprises and community-based entrepreneurs are forced to rely on cash-only operations, which leaves them exposed to violent crime.
Whilst most major corporations have access to banking options and expensive professional security, small and minority-owned businesses are left to fend for themselves, which has led to disastrous outcomes for many of them.
Last month in Washington State, three individuals were killed during robberies targeting cannabis companies – all in the same week. This violence is widespread and continuous, and it disproportionately affects the most vulnerable and targeted communities in the War on Drugs.
Expanding banking access is a key component of change that cannot be delayed with the focus on aiding those disproportionately disadvantaged by punitive drug laws. The conference committee must address this heinous problem, which jeopardizes our underserved community, people, public safety, and developing small cannabis businesses.
The bill has already been co-sponsored and voted for by a great proportion of the conference committee members. According to Perlmutter and Blumenauer, it would pass the Senate as a bipartisan standalone bill, just as it has in the House, but the chamber has yet to give it a chance as leadership works on a broader bill to legalize marijuana on a federal level.
And all the while, with burglaries and robberies at licensed cannabis retailers on the rise, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) and other officials have called a meeting with marijuana stakeholders and financial institutions to “discuss cash-less options for store operations,” according to a notice released last week by the state Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB).
Additionally, officials from Washington State conducted an online roundtable to examine the recent series of robberies targeting cannabis businesses, with regulators reaffirming their plea for federal policy reform and discussing steps the state can take on its own if Congress continues to fail to act.
Perlmutter has also made it a point to include the reform bills during hearings on purportedly unrelated or broader-ranging legislation, such as one held recently by the House Rules Committee.
The lack of safe, reliable banking access for small cannabis businesses is detrimental to their survival, as well as being devastatingly dangerous for the safety of the shop’s employees. Cannabis banking reform is essential in the continued fight for equal cannabis rights within the industry.
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