Photo by Matt Laslo

Which Comes First, Marijuana Decriminalization or Banking Reform?

A key House committee approved a bill to federally decriminalize marijuana and promote social equity, while Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says he and colleagues are working to advance a federal legalization bill, and they have an “agreement” the body will not take up cannabis banking legislation until more comprehensive reform advances.

So the big question remains: Should cannabis banking legislation happen before decriminalization measures?

Schumer, in an interview with Ethan Nadelmann on the podcast Psychoactive, says he’s open to exploring alternative ways of advancing banking reform, as long as lawmakers are able to incorporate social equity provisions of legalization — such as expungements for prior cannabis convictions — into upcoming defense policy legislation.

The cannabis industry generates a lot of cash, and we want to get that cash really off the streets because it attracts crime.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter

In the House Thursday, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act cleared the Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by the legislation’s sponsor Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), on a 26-15 vote that fell largely along party lines, with all Democrats supporting the measure and all but two Republicans voting against it. This comes on the heels of the full House voting in favor of a defense spending bill that includes an amendment that would protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.

Lawmakers have debated which should come first, decriminalization or banking reform. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has offered reasons for making marijuana legal before legislation is passed to help banks. But Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), sponsor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, told the U.S. Hemp Roundtable “the cannabis industry generates a lot of cash, and we want to get that cash really off the streets because it attracts crime — murders, robberies, assault and batteries [as well as] white collar crimes of skimming and fraud generally.”

Perlmutter admitted “there’s been some hesitation on some Democrats’ part in the Senate, wanting to do a much bigger piece of legislation that decriminalizes, deschedules, has criminal justice reform components, and a taxation component to it.”

Perlmutter is all for that, but he doesn’t believe the current legislation has the votes to pass in the Senate. “Quite frankly, the Senate hasn’t taken any action with respect to cannabis since 1971.”

So the big question remains: Should cannabis banking legislation happen before decriminalization measures?

the author writes

Some senators are convinced the time is finally right. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the chief sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act in his chamber, told the Hemp Roundtable he hoped to see the Senate ultimately accept a provision to House-passed defense spending legislation to protect banks that work with state-legal cannabis businesses.

“Let’s not leave a horrific situation sitting unattended,” Merkley said. “The fact that, without banking services, you have a number of dire consequences — if there is a path, then put this broader reform on the floor and let’s hold the vote. If it passes, great. But if it doesn’t pass, then give us a pathway to address this very significant and unjust situation regarding safe banking.”

This piece was originally published by Marijuana Moment and has been edited or modified by The News Station.

Leland Rucker is a journalist who has been covering the cannabis industry culture since Amendment 64 legalized adult-use in Colorado, for Boulder Weekly, Sensi and now TheNewsStation.com. His full bio is here.

Leland Rucker is a journalist who has been covering the cannabis industry culture since Amendment 64 legalized adult-use in Colorado, for Boulder Weekly, Sensi and now TheNewsStation.com. His full bio is here.

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