Cannabis Banking Bill Approved By Congress Makes History & Exposes Hypocrisy in the Nation's Capital
In a landmark moment in cannabis history, with a vote of 321 in favor to 103 opposed, the US House Representatives passed H.R.-1595 The SAFE Banking Act on Wednesday making it the first cannabis-centric piece of legislation to ever even receive a full floor vote in Congress, let alone a successful one. 91 Republican members of Congress gave their support to the largely Democratic bill aimed at lifting the level of access to traditional banking and lending options for state-sanctioned cannabis businesses.
The SAFE Banking Act faced strong 11th-hour opposition not just from weed-hating lawmakers but from its own Left Flank where progressive civic groups and lawmakers were demanding a vote on criminal and social justice reform before banking. Democratic leadership promised a vote on The SAFE Act this week and they followed through on that promise. They were rewarded with a victory in the House, but now the bill goes to the Republican-controlled Senate led by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who has a vested interest in the success of American hemp but has shown no love for the real deal.
Just last year, McConnell described cannabis as an “illicit cousin which I choose not to embrace.” The rest of McConnell’s cousins immediately ran to their therapists.
The odds of this bill passing the U.S. Senate as currently written are slim. The Republican party failed (for once) to act on the seemingly built-in hesitancy of the Democratic Party when the issue of cannabis reform was up for grabs politically. Now that the Dems have (sort of) taken ownership of it, Conservative Republicans could be wary of supporting their opponents’ agendas as we approach the election year of 2020.
The bill has even been “sweetened” to appeal more broadly to Republican lawmakers by wedging in unrelated protections for banks that do business with firearms dealers and payday lenders. That is their priority, making sure the ammunition and predatory high interest loans keep flowing.
With the support of the Republican majority in the Senate, The SAFE Banking Act could be inked into federal law before the end of the calendar year. Will that happen? If we had to bet on it, probably not.
The only thing that you can count on with the current iteration of the U.S. Senate is that the party in charge will do whatever their Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tells them to do. Mitch McConnell, like most Republicans, only does things to benefit himself in some way, shape, or form so his support or opposition to this bill will depend almost entirely on how it could affect the blooming hemp industry in which he has a very vested interest.
The lack of access to federally insured banking institutions has hamstrung cannabis markets in all legal states and creates a dangerous situation where companies are sitting on too much cash. It becomes a liability, not to mention the fact that it earns 0.0% interest in a duffel bag in an office safe.
This leads to cannabis companies having a hard time doing things like booking travel, buying vehicles, or upgrading their facilities. Traditional low-interest loans with fair terms simply do not exist in the cannabis space which is instead rife with predatory private lenders and slimy investor-types, both consistently over-promising and under-delivering.
This is especially true for low-income or social equity based businesses whose initial budgets are typically very limited. Without access to federally insured banks, these struggling startups all too often turn to high-interest private money or take on questionable investors who claim to be capable of kicking in capital.
Unfortunately, the odds are high that H.R.-1525 is a lamb walking into the hyena's den that is the Senate.
Equally as high is the amount of hypocritical hoops that anti-weed GOP lawmakers will have to jump through to explain to the 67%+ of American adults that support cannabis reform exactly why they refuse to represent the will of the people.
But hypocrisy is familiar turf for them and you don’t even have to leave Washington D.C. to witness it and how it already shapes cannabis reform on the micro level. The nation’s capital legalized the recreational use and possession of cannabis back in 2014, but both then and now there are no laws in place to regulate the legal sale of it.
The responsibility to draft and enact those laws would typically fall on a state governor who would form regulatory agencies and delegate the duty to them. In D.C., though, the U.S. Congress maintains oversight over the local government. So, in other words, the Feds are in charge of overseeing a legal plant that they deem incredibly illegal.
As it stands now, anyone over the age of 21 in D.C. may possess up to two ounces of weed, grow up to three mature and three immature plants in their homes, and gift up to one ounce of cannabis to another adult 21 or older. Still, the sale, purchase, and public consumption of legal weed remains illegal in D.C.
Meanwhile after a steady 5-year decline in cannabis arrests leading up to legalization, arrest totals for both public consumption and sales of cannabis rose sharply after the District made it ok to have the weed in your pocket but gave the people no place to obtain it legally. In 2016, over 400 people were arrested in D.C. for public consumption of cannabis. Arrests for weed sales also jumped from 80 in 2015 to 220 in 2016.
You want to talk about hypocrisy?
Bickering over which cannabis bill to support posing as a social justice warrior while the streets right outside the Capitol Building are still a battleground in the racist, failed War on Drugs is the height of hypocrisy.
We are stoked for H.R.-1525 and the glass ceiling it shattered today on the floor of the House of Representatives. Now to start chipping away at the concrete roof above that.