by Michelle Rutter Friberg, NCIA’s Deputy Director of Government Relations
I don’t know about you, but it seems no matter where I look, everything is about COVID-19. And with good reason — many of us are still working from home, helping their families with distance learning, and overall dealing with the effects of the virus. That being said, this week I wanted to take a look at two pieces of cannabis legislation — non-COVID related — and update you on where things stand, since we’re already nearly halfway through 2020!
The SAFE Banking Act
Last September, the SAFE Banking Act became the first piece of cannabis reform legislation to ever pass out of the United States House of Representatives by an astounding bipartisan vote of 321-103. The first iteration of the bill, named the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act, was introduced to the 113th Congress back in 2013 and has made a long journey to get to this point in the legislative process.
Now that the SAFE Banking Act has passed the House, its journey has continued in the more conservative, Republican-controlled Senate. However, just before Christmas, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) issued a press release detailing his opposition to cannabis policy reform — including the SAFE Banking Act as it’s currently written. In the release, Chairman Crapo said,
“I remain firmly opposed to efforts to legalize marijuana on the federal level, and I am opposed to legalization in the State of Idaho. I also do not support the SAFE Banking Act that passed in the House of Representatives. Significant concerns remain that the SAFE Banking Act does not address the high-level potency of marijuana, marketing tactics to children, lack of research on marijuana’s effects, and the need to prevent bad actors and cartels from using the banks to disguise ill-gotten cash to launder money into the financial system.”
Even now with COVID-19, NCIA is virtually lobbying for the SAFE Banking Act, or some of its provisions, to be included in the next coronavirus relief package. Before COVID-19, the all-cash situation cannabis businesses face created an unnecessary public safety risk and undue safety burden on state and local tax and licensing authorities who must receive and process large cash payments. Now, as recent reports show that viruses can live on cash for up to 17 days, the public safety concerns of this cash-only system compound. The lack of access to financial institutions places industry workers, government employees, and the public-at-large at risk as banknotes circulate from consumers and patients to businesses to government.
NCIA is continually working with Sen. Crapo, congressional and committee staff, coalition partners, and the bill’s cosponsors to ensure that all parties have the materials and information that they need in order to solve this pressing public safety– and now, public health– issue and pass the SAFE Banking Act into law!
The MORE Act
In November, by a vote of 24-10, the House Judiciary Committee approved the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019, or H.R. 3884. This bill was introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and currently has 73 cosponsors. This was the first time that a congressional committee held a vote on – let alone approved – a comprehensive bill that would make cannabis legal. Perhaps even more significantly, this bill recognizes and works to address the disproportionate impact prohibition has had on marginalized communities and people of color while helping to increase access and opportunity in the legal cannabis industry.
The bill still has a long way to go, though. While the House Judiciary Committee has passed the legislation, there are still six more congressional committees with jurisdiction over the bill, including the Energy and Commerce, Agriculture, Education and Labor, Ways and Means, Natural Resources, and Oversight and Reform committees. In January, the House Small Business Committee waived its jurisdiction over the MORE Act.
While the MORE Act does not contain an explicit regulatory structure for cannabis after it is descheduled, Chairman Nadler said in a press conference the day before the markup vote that it was possible amendments could be added to the bill as it moves through the House.
All that being said, it’s unclear what Congress’ schedule will look like for the rest of the year. The Senate returned to Washington yesterday, however, the House remains out of session as concerns about legislating in the age of COVID-19 remain. On top of that, 2020 is an election year, which complicates matters (and scheduling) even more. Regardless, I hope you can rest assured knowing that NCIA’s government relations team is working around the clock to advocate for the cannabis industry — whether that be banking reform, ending cannabis criminalization, or allowing for SBA relief. From D.C. to wherever you are, stay healthy!