Why the SAFE Banking Act Must Pass to Expand Legal Cannabis Access to Seniors in Residential Care
By Dave Coennen
Did you know that buying cannabis is a cash only transaction in the US? Did you know that even cannabis healthcare specialists and educational organizations struggle to find and keep banking and credit card processing? Did you know that there is no cash on hand in residential care facilities for the elderly?
Credit card companies won’t process cannabis related transactions and most banks will not provide services for licensed cannabis businesses. A few credit unions are starting to offer basics, like a checking account and a debit card, but still have no processing for credit cards. They require an armored car service and charge very high rates and fees for oversight and compliance, probably due to the fear they might be considered money laundering for the sale of a “federally controlled substance.”
Despite the “Green Wave” of states legalizing the healing herb for adult use or medical purposes in 2020 and now in 2021, cannabis remains on the Schedule I of drugs in the Controlled Substances Act. This is the Schedule where they put heroin, and other chemicals which are considered to be “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” The mere fact that cannabis is on this schedule of forbidden substances creates a myriad of issues for the states that have legalized the plant for medical or adult use purposes, not the least of which is financial.
Efforts to remove cannabis completely from the Controlled Substances Act are underway in the House of Representatives in the MORE Act, passed in 2020 and soon to be reintroduced along with a bill in the Senate by Sen. Chuck Schmumer (D) and members of the Cannabis Caucus to achieve the same goal: legalizing cannabis federally.
This is, of course, the ultimate goal; de-scheduling cannabis, a plant that is so beneficial to so many with a relatively low risk of harm and few unwanted side effects. Although the legalization bills being introduced are encouraging, the odds of the MORE Act or some other full cannabis legalization passing at the federal level are slim, needing the support of every Democrat plus ten Republicans as well as Biden’s approval.
The Cannabis Banking Bill: How the SAFE Act Can Help Seniors
After being initially introduced in 2019, the cannabis banking bill, or the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, has been reintroduced in the House. The proposed law ensures cannabis companies would no longer be prohibited, penalized or discouraged from being provided financial services and was widely celebrated in 2019 with bipartisan support. In fact, the vast majority in Congress voted for it, 321-103. Despite all the support, the SAFE Banking Act languished in the Senate.
With passage in the House extremely likely in 2021, SAFE banking will once again be in the hands of the Senate, now under Democratic control. But the road to passage of the bill is not as clear as one would imagine. Senate banking chair Sherrod Brown recently stated he would like to couple bank access for cannabis businesses with drug sentencing reforms, working in concert with the Judiciary Committee:
“I am willing to look at moving on the SAFE Act, but with it needs to come sentencing reform,” Brown said. “I don’t think we move on legalization the way that Colorado and some other states want us to, unless we really look more seriously at who’s in prison for how long for those kinds of offenses and we don’t do one without the other.” Brown said the sentencing reform he desires would have to go through the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“We’re not going to move without working with the Judiciary Committee on that at the same time,” said Brown.”
It is only because of the outlaws and traditional medicine makers that we have a modern cannabis movement. Legalizing and normalizing cannabis must include ending failed policy and releasing those who made all this possible.
Should cannabis banking pass without addressing the harms of the failed war on drugs? Probably not, but will it? Getting bipartisan support for a criminal justice reform bill on top of banking access for legal cannabis businesses may not be achievable in the current Congress.
Banking alone, however, may get the support of both sides of the aisle. Will that support reach the margin of 60 votes to allow the banking industry a piece of the cannabis pie, solving the cash only safety concerns, as well as expanding access to people living in residential care who don’t have cash to pay for their medicine? Only pressure from their constituents will make them get on board.
Call and write to your Senators and tell them to pass SAFE banking including sentencing reform. In California, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) – (202) 224-3841 and Sen. Alex Padilla (D) (202) 224-3553