Throughout the United States, crimes concerning the legal cannabis trade have been on the rise. Most notably, robberies of dispensaries which sometimes lead to injury and death.
Legal cannabis shops are one of the hottest targets for robberies for one reason: everyone knows they carry a large amount of cash.
Due to the current federal prohibition of cannabis, legal businesses can’t receive bank services that you would typically find in any other industry. This includes the ability for customers to use debit or credit cards.
In turn, store owners have been forced to only work with cash which can be a nightmare to organize and file for. Furthermore, it puts these operations at a much higher risk than other businesses.
In fact, some estimates claim that in Washington state alone, there were more than 50 armed robberies of cannabis stores in the first two months of 2022. A much higher number than we saw in all of 2020 and 2021.
With this in mind, many are advocating that Congress passes the SAFE Banking Act, a bill that would make it easier for cannabis businesses to garner bank services.
“The time for congressional dithering on this issue needs to end because people are dying,” Mike Pellicciotti, Washington State Treasurer, said in an interview.
Due to headlines of recent robberies, there has been a momentum in congress we haven’t seen previously. Even propositions for federal decriminalization of cannabis have been brought back to the table.
However, there’s one thing that’s kept the bill stalled momentarily: Democrats’ demand for social equity or criminal justice reform provisions to be passed alongside banking legislation.
Previous to these demands, the bill had already been met with resistance from Republicans. But due to what’s happening with legal dispensaries and the fact that the House is including the COMPETES Act – a China trade bill – with the legislation, more are open to it.
“I’m hoping to see it in the bill,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana). “We’ve got the Republican votes to get this passed.”
We’re seeing a number of Republicans shift their perspective on the SAFE Banking Act – from being too radical of an idea to being a necessity. It is now the Democrats who are arguing that the bill isn’t providing enough.
In fact, some are arguing that it’s too conservative. Particularly due to the fact that it offers banks easy access to a multi-billion dollar industry while not addressing relief for people who have faced consequences for cannabis.
“If Democrats start adding additional revisions, it’s not gonna make it,” Daines said.
There are two difficulties here when it comes to arguments on both sides:
- There’s no denying that the SAFE Banking Act is a necessity for this industry and one that’s been held up way too long in Congress. We need to pass as soon as possible.
- The SAFE Banking Act provides the perfect opportunity for federal social equity – one of the biggest promises the cannabis industry has made and has often fallen short on.
But beyond these arguing points, some Republicans are claiming the package deal of the SAFE Banking Act and COMPETES Act are inappropriate.
“China has been steadily building up its military and economic might, and the Democrats’ answer is to help Americans get high?” McConnell said on the Senate floor, back in February.
While there’s no denying that COMPETES is currently the top priority of both Republicans and Democrats, the incorporation of the SAFE Banking Act alongside social equity provisions is the perfect opportunity to build America’s might as well.
It’s well-established that cannabis is here to stay in the United States and that even without Congress’ help, Americans are still going to get high. Yet, with the proper regulations controlling this industry, we can develop a safer, more equitable marketplace for everyone.