by Morgan Fox, NCIA’s Director of Media Relations
It’s been a busy week for NCIA in our nation’s capital as we try to make sure the industry can survive the pandemic and continue to develop and thrive once the country begins to focus on recovery.
Earlier this month, NCIA and a coalition of advocacy and industry groups sent a letter to Congress urging them to include the SAFE Banking Act in the next stimulus package. We worked diligently with allies and our champions in the House to this end, reminding lawmakers that this legislation was approved with an overwhelming bipartisan majority in a stand-alone bill last September and that the pandemic was creating even more need for cannabis businesses to be able to access banking services immediately.
Last Tuesday, we got our wish: cannabis banking language identical to that passed in the House last year was included in the latest COVID-19 relief package, known as the HEROES Act.
Unfortunately, the partisan backlash to the Democrat-backed legislation was almost immediate, with some lawmakers opting to use this necessary and nearly revenue-neutral provision of the legislation as a punching bag and a symbol of overreach in the lower chamber. Republican lawmakers decried things as irrelevant as the number of times the word “cannabis” appeared in the language and claimed that this provision did not belong in a COVID-related bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell even complained about a section of the bill that would study diversity in cannabis banking access and cost a practically infinitesimal percentage of this roughly $3 TRILLION stimulus bill.
This misdirected vitriol was thankfully not enough to block cannabis banking reform from moving forward. On Friday, the House approved the HEROES Act with the SAFE Banking language included!
The public health and safety benefits of allowing cannabis banking are undeniable. Our industry employs hundreds of thousands of Americans and has been deemed ‘essential’ in most states. Forcing the majority of them to deal almost entirely in cash puts workers at risk of infection from the cash they are handling. It makes the social distancing that is so important to getting this pandemic under control much more difficult and increases the danger for workers and consumers, particularly immunocompromised patients. The public safety concerns regarding cash being a target for crime will only grow as unemployment rates increase around the country.
The economic benefit to post-COVID recovery is clear as well. Lack of access to banking and other financial services will ensure that the cannabis industry – which has been exemplary in providing continuous healthcare, preserving jobs, and generating much-needed tax revenue during this disaster – recovers at a significantly slower pace than other industries. We deserve fair access to the financial systems utilized by every other legitimate industry.
Make no mistake: this is a big step forward for cannabis policy reform. But now comes the hard part – convincing the Senate to support this legislation. With or without cannabis banking language, all signs point to an uphill battle getting the Senate to consider any additional coronavirus relief spending. But that’s all the more reason to redouble our efforts, and support continues to grow. This week, a bipartisan group of 34 state attorneys general added their voices to the chorus calling for cannabis banking reform.
And with the chances for direct access to federal relief funding looking increasingly slim, it is absolutely vital that we do everything we can to push this legislation forward.
Please contact your senators today and ask them to support the HEROES Act with the House-approved cannabis banking provisions.