Marijuana business owners from coast-to-coast just got a major – and surprising – boost, as one of the most powerful Republican committee chairs on Capitol Hill tells Wikileaf that he now supports allowing cannabis companies to access the U.S. banking system. And more than that, he’s exploring ways to make it the law of the land with either standalone legislation or through pushing the Department of Justice to ease regulations and allow it to happen without this divided Congress having to weigh in on the matter.
Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo is no fan of marijuana – after all, he represents one of the mere three states that still don’t allow medicinal marijuana (or even CBD for that matter). Still, the Republican chair of the Senate Banking Committee tells Wikileaf for the first time that it now seems evident that Congress needs to stop its blockade and finally allow federally prohibited, though locally legal, pot businesses to use banks like every other business in the nation.
“I think so,” Crapo told Wikileaf at the Capitol when asked if legislation is needed to end the federal hurdles that have forced cannabis retailers to run as all-cash businesses. “Yeah.”
Last week Crapo turned heads when his committee held a hearing into even allowing marijuana businesses to access banks, which seemed to be a reversal from his previous position opposing even entertaining the idea of normalizing marijuana until Congress overturned its longstanding prohibition on the increasingly popular plant.
While pot proponents see it as progress that the senior senator is no longer blocking marijuana issues from being debated in his committee, that’s just the start of this sea change. Crapo says he’s actively exploring ways to solve this problem that’s been plaguing small-to-large cannabis companies for years now.
“I think all the issues got well vetted. We now need to, I think, move forward and see if there’s some way we can draft legislation that will deal with the issue,” Crapo said.
Crapo knows getting stand-alone legislation time on the Senate floor is an uphill battle, even on popular bipartisan proposals, like the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act – legislation aimed at tearing down the barriers in federal law that have made most financial institutions refuse to lend capital to many marijuana companies. That’s why he’s also planning to work with the Trump administration to see if there’s a way to bypass this hyper-partisan and utterly gridlocked Congress altogether.
“There are other ways it could be solved,” Crapo said. “For example regulatory – they could deal with the issue at the Department of Justice, but I don’t know.”
Merely having the hearing on marijuana banking issues was “a historic moment in the Senate,” according to Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Col.) – one of two senators who testified in the Banking Committee ahead of a panel of experts who were mostly supportive of overhauling banking rules in order to assist the nation’s burgeoning marijuana industry. And he says the growing support from Republicans and Democrats alike on the issue shows that times aren’t just changing – they’ve already changed.
“It shows that this isn’t just a regional issue, but a national issue that needs to be addressed,” Gardner told Wikileaf as he was walking through the Capitol.
While some national media outlets made a fuss that Crapo was the only Republican on the Banking Committee to bother to attend the hearing, Gardner says those outlets missed the bigger picture: the conservative media machine and many GOP senators – professional rhetorical bomb-throwers – surrendered at the feet of marijuana.
“There was some criticism that the Republican attendance wasn’t there, but if they wanted to blow it up they would’ve been there,” Gardner said. “So I look at that as sort of an acknowledgment that this is now just a status quo issue and not something that they’re going to try and interfere with.”
Many Democrats also see these latest developments as progress.
“I would like to see it as a positive step forward,” Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) told Wikileaf as she was walking underneath the Capitol. “I support doing something in this country for these states that have legitimised marijuana businesses, we’ve got to give them an opportunity to have a financial system for them and…not an all-cash system for them.”
The former Nevada attorney general says the current federal prohibition on marijuana, especially while coupled with the banking prohibition, makes the nation’s multi-billion-dollar – and ever-growing – cannabis industry ripe for abuse.
“I have always been concerned about potential money laundering or crimes that are sort of around these all-cash businesses,” Cortez Masto said. “By having a financial system, it helps.”
But the question still ominously hovering over the nation’s capital – and all the marijuana dispensary owners, growers, and suppliers nationwide – is whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will ever allow marijuana banking legislation, or any marijuana bill for that matter, to see the light of day on the Senate floor. That remains a multi-billion dollar question.
“We’ll find out,” Cortez Masto said as the elevator doors ushering her to McConnell’s tightly controlled Senate floor closed.