You may soon be able to legally use your credit card to buy cannabis. That’s because momentum is building behind a measure to allow weed businesses access to basic financial services, like accepting credit cards or even opening a company bank account.
All eyes remain on the Senate, where the bipartisan and popular SAFE Banking Act has yet to even receive a vote. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats have demanded criminal justice reform be a part of any cannabis normalization effort, but their blockade seems to be losing steam.
“There’s been fascinating support from a number of senators on the conference committee, which, as you know, has the SAFE Banking embedded in it,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) tells The Outlaw Report. “Looks good.”
Blumenauer is a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, but he’s also got a seat at the head negotiating table as a member of the conference committee on an innovation measure: the America COMPETES Act.
In a rarity in contemporary Washington, the Senate and House both passed their own version of that bill and are now formally working out their differences. In the House, Democrats included the SAFE Banking Act in their version of the measure, and they’re continuing to make it a top priority in negotiations with their Senate counterparts.
Blumenauer is optimistic, though he isn’t spiking any footballs just yet.
“Never, but it’s in the bill. Strong support,” Blumenauer said. “I think we’re in good shape.”
Last month the House passed SAFE Banking as a standalone bill. It sailed through the lower chamber with the support of 321 lawmakers and just 101 opponents. But rank-and-file Democrats can’t force the Senate to act on anything their chamber passes, thus the banking measure was tucked into the popular America COMPETES Act as a failsafe – one where they actually have leverage.
As a standalone bill, SAFE Banking even garnered support from some Republicans who oppose legalizing recreational pot. The measure generated a lot of buzz following a string of fatal robberies at cannabis dispensaries, which are federally forced to carry cash because they can’t access U.S. banking services, making them easy targets for armed thieves. Data from the Craft Cannabis Coalition, a group representing more than 50 weed retailers in Washington state, shows dispensary robberies nearly doubled in the first quarter of this year compared to last year.
“I’ve always thought we’ve got the law screwed up. I do think there needs to be a complete relook at the law because of what the states are doing,” said Rep. Morgan Griffith, a Republican of southwest Virginia who supports SAFE Banking. “I’ve always been for medicinal marijuana, but the law is now out of sync with what people are doing and what the states are doing. And you have to get that all straight.”
But Griffith says some Senate Democrats — most notably Majority Leader Chuck Schumer –– are jeopardizing efforts to pass SAFE Banking by demanding criminal justice reform be included in any bill to normalize weed at the federal level. That’s an unrealistic stance, he says, unless Schumer wants a campaign issue rather than a policy solution.
“This is the first step, and there are a lot of my colleagues who aren’t ready to take all the other steps. And so you’re gonna end up with nothing,” Griffith says of Schumer’s demands to expand the scope of a measure wildly popular at home, yet utterly misunderstood on Capitol Hill.
“Sometimes you have to take what you can get at that moment and then show people, ‘Okay, the sky didn’t fall. Let’s go to the next step.’ And that’s where I think we’re at, and I think the Senate’s screwed it up.”
Griffith’s not alone. In the House, SAFE Banking was supported by every Democrat, save the two who didn’t even bother to vote. Former-Ambassador and current Rep. Don Beyer, from northern Virginia, agrees with Griffith over Schumer, his fellow Democrat.
Beyer’s a proponent of criminal justice reform, but he’s seen the perfect be the enemy of the decent over his years. That’s why he’s urging Schumer – and the Senate he controls – to pass the measure normalizing banking, and then come back for criminal and even restorative justice measures in the near future.
“It can wait,” Beyer tells The Outlaw Report. “The reason so little happens on Capitol Hill is people insist on doing 17 or 27 things in every bill. You just do it one at a time. You know, leaves fall off trees one at a time. Marriages are built one day at a time. Good children are raised one at a time.”
“Marriages fall apart one day at a time,” this reporter quips.
“Yeah, they fall apart one day at a time,” Beyer agrees, “But trying to be all things to all peoples always, always is a prescription for a glacial pace.”