Many of you have likely been following the saga of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act (H.R. 1595/S. 1200) currently making its way through the U.S. Congress. With over 200 co-sponsors in the House and now 33 in the Senate, the banking legislation – which would make it easier for state-legal cannabis businesses to deal with banks and credit unions – is looking more and more like it has a good chance of passing through Congress and actually making it to President Trump’s desk.
Reports indicate that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s office is planning on bringing H. R. 1595 to the floor for a vote by the end of this month after it passed out of committee in the spring. On the Senate side, the bill got a rather anticlimactic committee hearing in July and has received support from various regulators and representatives of the banking and credit industries.
So this is all good news, right? Everyone in the cannabis community is on board with this possible success in the near future, yes? Well, no.
After expressing their concerns earlier this summer about the order in which the various pieces of cannabis law reform legislation were moving forward, a group of civil rights organizations that includes the ACLU and the Drug Policy Alliance sent a letter to the Democratic leadership in the House on the 17th.
“Since the start of the 116th Congress, we have expressed concern to House Leadership, the House Financial Services Committee, and member offices, that if the banking bill moved to the Floor before broader reform, it would jeopardize comprehensive marijuana reform,” the letter reads, in part. “Therefore, we have pushed for a conversation among advocates, Committee leadership, and House Leadership to formulate a plan for moving marijuana legislation in a way that is comprehensive and does not result in carve-outs for the industry and leave behind impacted communities.”
“We ask that you delay any vote on the banking bill until agreement has been reached around broader marijuana reform,” they said.
To be clear, I’m 100% for comprehensive law reform and undoing the wrongs of marijuana prohibition inasmuch as that can be accomplished. But I’ve never been a fan of full-scale halts in momentum. The notion that Congress will pass banking legislation and then let the rest fall away seems unlikely to me. It seems more likely that a victory in this smaller battle can be used to gauge support for law reform overall and help pinpoint areas where votes need to be shored up.
And what seems even more likely is that a delay in a vote on the SAFE legislation will – instead of leading to consensus on comprehensive reform – stall momentum in a Congress that is already overwhelmed with issues that are seen as more important as we move into 2020 and the biggest political circus ever seen.
In politics it seems that stalling action in favor of more talking rarely leads to more action down the road. Waiting and talking is not a luxury we have as people continue to be denied access to medicine and continue to get criminal records even though they have harmed no one.
And in the end, when you have zero wins, delaying your first win in the hopes that politicians will come through for you in the future strikes me as naïve at best.