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This year has been a historic one for federal cannabis reform, and it may be about to get even better. Last month, Congress hosted two public hearings on cannabis policy: The first focused on racial and social justice (see my coverage here), and the second focused on banking access for the cannabis industry.
Unlike a lot of what goes on in Congress, these hearings were not just for show. Following many hours of testimony on the banking issue, U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) made headlines by for the first time voicing his support for legislation that would give cannabis businesses access to the banking system, which every other business in the United States takes for granted. The importance of Sen. Crapo’s support is mainly due to his position as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, which hosted the hearing that was necessary to advance the SAFE Banking Act, a bi-partisan bill that would solve access to banking for the cannabis industry. But it’s also a sign of the times, as Sen. Crapo is not only a Republican, but a Republican from Idaho — one of only three states in the nation that has not passed any sort of cannabis legalization bill, even for access to CBD for medical purposes.
Just a few years ago, an Idaho Republican supporting cannabis banking would have been unthinkable; now it’s merely a pleasant surprise. But to those who watched the hearing, his newfound support may not be so surprising. The hearing began with testimony from the lead sponsors of the SAFE Banking Act: U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado, and U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat. While they likely disagree on many issues, they’re working together to give cannabis businesses in their states access to the banking system.
The bill sponsors’ testimony was followed by an expert panel that included representatives from a credit union, a bank, a state-regulated cannabis business, and, unfortunately, one staunch prohibitionist. The bankers talked about how difficult it is to work with cannabis businesses under current federal law, and asked for reform so that they could work with them like they already do with alcohol, tobacco, pharmaceutical, and myriad other businesses. The cannabis business representative explained how conflicting state and federal laws harm owners, employees, and customers. The prohibitionist attempted to distract the committee’s attention with misleading information on the debunked gateway theory, teen usage, DUI, and pretty much anything but banking — since even most prohibitionists would admit that if cannabis is legal, it doesn’t make sense to block cannabis businesses from using banks.
Along with many other businesses, non-profits, and cannabis reform advocates, I submitted my own written testimony, which you can read here. As an owner and employee of a so-called “multi-state operator” that runs cannabis cultivation, production, and dispensary facilities across the country, I’ve been personally impacted by this lack of access to banking services. Despite operating in clear compliance with the states’ medical marijuana programs, our businesses in multiple states have experienced the inefficiencies and safety risks of being forced to operate using only cash. As a quickly growing company, we just went public—but on the Canadian Securities Exchange because federal law prevents us from listing on the NASDAQ or other American exchanges.