Last week, a group of financial associations sent a letter to leaders of the House of Representatives showing support for legislation that, if passed, would protect banks and credit unions who choose to do business with cannabis companies. Currently, financial institutions knowingly involved with federally illegal drug operations (e.g. medical and recreational cannabis companies) are technically laundering drug money—a felony. This keeps marijuana in a cash-only domain, placing consumers and cannabis company employees at risk of being targeted for robbery and violence. It also makes it tough for the government to make sure everyone is paying the right taxes.
According to Marijuana Moment, the American Bankers Association (ABA), Credit Union National Association (CUNA), Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) and National Bankers Association (NBA) wrote that support of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act was not support of marijuana legalization. They wrote: “Our members are committed to serving the financial needs of their communities—
Last week, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, of Maryland, told the Democratic Caucus that he wants to hold a vote on the bill by the end of the month. But civil rights groups and marijuana advocates including the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, Drug Policy Alliance, Center for American Progress, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and JustLeadershipUSA decried the move and said they want to see legalization legislation that considers social equity.
In a letter written to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of California, and Hoyer, the coalition wrote: “We are concerned that if the House approves this bill, it will undermine broader and more inclusive efforts to reform our country’s marijuana laws … The Congress has a unique opportunity to address the myriad injustices created by this nation’s marijuana laws. For decades, people of color have suffered under harsh and racially-biased marijuana laws. The banking bill does not address marijuana reform holistically. Instead, it narrowly addresses the issues of banking and improved access to financial services, measures that would benefit the marijuana industry, not communities who have felt the brunt of prohibition.”
This brings up an argument worth having. Does incremental marijuana policy reform—like the SAFE Act, or New Mexico's decriminalization law—only serve to slow progress in general by making the need for more substantial reforms less urgent?
It's a really good question, dear reader. And it's one I can't answer. If I had to err on the side of caution (as I usually do), I'd say take the deal as it is. I highly doubt anyone on the Hill just read that letter and said, “By golly, I never thought about it like that. Let's drop everything and legalize weed. Party at the House after the vote!” We're talking about slimy politicians, after all.
The banking issue has been a serious problem vexing the industry for over a decade, and a lot of innocent people have been screwed by it. While prohibition has clearly done far worse to even more innocent people, pretending like it's the same problem is disingenuous. When it comes to voting on these two issues, there is clearly more support from lawmakers for marijuana banking reform than there is for legalization (with or without equity considerations). Holding the former hostage in support of the latter probably won't do anyone any good. I guess it does make headlines, though, and it gives these groups a nice aura of martyrdom (so popular these days) when no one listens to their demands.
And just in case you were under the impression that the battle for non-resident medical cannabis cards was over and done: The New Mexico Department of Health is now refusing to issue cards to out-of-state Medical Cannabis Program applicants, despite a judge's order to do so.
According to the Albuquerque Journal, non-residents seeking admission to the program have been told by DOH that their applications are on hold while the agency continues to fight the decision. In a statement, department spokesperson David Morgan told reporters that the court's ruling wasn't final and could be stayed pending an appeal.
If you're totally lost: Last month a state judge ruled that DOH had to allow non-residents into the Medical Cannabis Program because a new law changed the definition of a patient from a “resident of New Mexico” to a “person.” Earlier this month, according to NM Political Report, DOH filed a motion asking the judge to go back on the ruling. The DOH also filed a joint motion with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham asking that the order to issue cards to out-of-state patients be placed on hold.
Last week, Brian Egolf, the lawyer representing the three non-residents who started this whole debacle—and received the requested cards, mind you—reportedly filed a motion calling for Medical Cannabis Program Director Kenny Vigil to be held in contempt of court.
Now I get as excited as the next guy when I watch a tennis ball go back and forth over a net, but I'm really starting to get bored as hell with this story. I'm also quite anxious to see exactly what this was all about once the dust settles. Until then, we can only guess (I'm still guessing this is a weird stunt to force a higher plant production limit out of the department).