President Donald Trump has now walked away from another potentially bipartisan coronavirus stimulus package, and that doesn’t bode well for locally legal cannabis firms. That’s because House Democrats included the SAFE Banking Act, which would allow marijuana companies to access the nation’s financial institutions, in their latest stimulus package – a package that now seems dead until after November’s elections. The House passed its $2.2 trillion Heroes Act last week, and then lawmakers rushed to the airport. And – barring an emergency – none are expecting to be called back to Washington until after the election. And with that train now staying at the station, pro-cannabis lawmakers are worried marijuana dispensaries - and all the companies tied to them at the hip – are going to be left locked out of the nation’s financial institutions for the foreseeable future. Marijuana is now more than just weed. This summer’s unrest and peaceful protests have tied marijuana normalization to racial justice in the minds of many elected – as well as non-elected – officials. “It’s been long overdue,” Rep. Dwight Evans (D-Pa.) told Wikileaf. “Criminal justice reform is needed, and secondly particularly from an economic standpoint, we need this.”
Now, with 33 states and the nation’s capital having approved medicinal marijuana (with 11 and Washington, D.C. having approved recreational marijuana), many lawmakers argue the nation can no longer afford to have two classes of entrepreneurs. But that’s surely the case with marijuana businesses because most can’t get loans, accept credit cards, or even keep their stacks of cash locked in a bank’s safe vaults. And it’s a glaring problem in small and large communities alike to pro-cannabis lawmakers. “This has support from the banks, because the banks are tired of dealing with these rooms full of dirty cash that you have to Febreze, because they don't want to be subject to the liability,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) told Wikileaf. Ocasio-Cortez bemoans that the big banks are lining up for a payday before Congress passes restorative justice bills – like the MORE Act, which would reinvest proceeds from cannabis sales into job training programs in the communities left blighted by the war on ‘drugs.’ But even Ocasio-Cortez opposes local businesses having mounds of cash piled up.
Bipartisan Support Foiled by Election Gridlock
It’s not just progressives. Many Republicans get that simple arithmetic too. “It's a very popular bill across the aisle,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) told Wikileaf. She served in Washington State’s Senate from 2015-2017 and helped craft the regulations to oversee the state’s legal recreational and medicinal cannabis marketplaces. “[At first], no Republicans were with us…all of a sudden, it became a very bipartisan vote,” Jayapal said. “And, I think, now it is a business, and the banking issues for marijuana businesses are real. And so it's got a lot of support on both sides of the aisle.” To Jayapal the reason for that is simple. “It's not, like, a Democratic state only thing,” Jayapal said. But in today’s hyper-partisan and utterly gridlocked nation’s capital, even bipartisan issues become political fodder for one party or the other. And marijuana may have finally arrived because it’s treated like every other issue these days. That’s why the SAFE Banking Act seems to have died for now. And it has nothing to do with cannabis laws. It’s all politics, especially with an earth-moving election just around the next bend. Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin came close to forging another bipartisan coronavirus stimulus deal – with Mnuchin drastically increasing the offer from the White House to $1.6 trillion as opposed to Pelosi and Democrats coming down to $2.2 trillion. But the talks broke apart on policy disagreements, like on how much federal money to infuse into cash-strapped and recession-saddled states. Still, this is an election year and many Republicans aren’t going to put their necks out, especially on a substance still listed as a Schedule 1 narcotic by the Drug Enforcement Administration and others. That’s why even after hearing from local and national bankers, along with other financial institutions, many in the GOP say Congress needs to take up marijuana decriminalization, legalization or even just outright reject either before they feel comfortable supporting a locally legal industry that remains at odds with the federal prohibition. “I understand the economic pressure that comes from it,” Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) told Wikileaf. “But the bottom line still is – whether it's the next administration or whoever or whatever – you’ve got to get to the core issue. Because just creating all of these band-aids and maneuvers doesn't make things more efficient. If it’s just more winks and nods, you create more complications you have for enforcing all the laws.”
Even with Congress now out of town until after Election Day, cannabis and SAFE Banking supporters aren’t worried. They say the tides have turned in their favor, and they rest assured in all the polls showing this is no longer a partisan issue; even if politicians in both parties keep treating it like it is. “The marijuana thing is really interesting how it cuts across party lines: Democrats, Republicans, libertarians, farmers, rural, urban,” Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) told Wikileaf. “You're seeing some interest on trying to figure out how to thread the needle on the Republican side.” The problem with that patient, wait-and-see approach is all of the thousands of marijuana business owners and their employees who will remain left out of the full US economy until Congress acts.