Marijuana Banking Reform Blocked By Senate

A marijuana banking amendment has been blocked by the Senate.

Colorado Senator Cory Gardner (R) was confident his plan to allow marijuana banking had the votes to pass, but the First Step Act – a sweeping criminal justice reform bill – will proceed without the CO Senator’s measure.

So why was the amendment blocked? What would it have accomplished if it had passed? And what happens now?

Why Was the Amendment Blocked?

This is Gardner’s second attempt to get the legislation passed. The first time, he partnered with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D) to  introduce the proposal as a stand-alone bill. By attaching the States Act to the First Step Act, Gardner was hoping to finally force a vote on the issue.

And with a vast majority of representatives serving states with some form of legal marijuana, there was reason to be optimistic. But his amendment – originally dubbed the States Act – was never called to a formal vote.

Initially, all amendments were being blocked by a procedural maneuver from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. As a result Gardner tried to obtain unanimous support for his banking amendment. That’s when Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) stepped in. Grassley called the amendment a “back door to legalization” and kept the measure from going to a formal vote.

Despite gaining national attention and support from the President, the amendment won’t be included in the First Step Act.

The Senate voted to pass the First Step Act (without marijuana banking reform) late Tuesday with overwhelming support (87-12).

What Would the Bill Have Do?

While this year’s marijuana banking reform attempts have been stymied, Senator Gardner has declared he won’t stop fighting for the measures his bill would have included.

According to Gardner’s staff, the bill would have:

  • Amended the Controlled Substances Act to protect businesses, consumers, and tribes who are compliant with local marijuana laws.
  • Clearly stated that transactions compliant with local marijuana laws do not constitute drug trafficking and should not be considered unlawful.

The bill would have also doubled down on current state laws and common sense legislation:

  • Prohibiting employment of anyone under 18 in drug operations.
  • Prohibiting actions that would endanger human life during the manufacturing process.
  • Prohibiting the sale of cannabis at public transportation safety facilities, like rest areas and truck stops.
  • Prohibiting the sale of cannabis to minors unless for medical purposes and with appropriate medical marijuana ID.

While we won’t see the sweeping changes as early as many cannabis consumers and businesses hoped, there are still congresspersons on both sides of the aisle who agree that marijuana banking reform is necessary.

Why Is Cannabis Banking So Important?

As Gardner said in a recent Bloomberg interview, nearly every state in the U.S. has legalized some form of cannabis: recreational, medical, CBD oil, hemp. But the billions of dollars of revenue marijuana generates can’t legally be deposited in a federal bank. As a result, piles of cash are largely unaccounted for. Marijuana revenue must be reinvested in other businesses or stored somewhere safe and protected by armed guards. Some business owners can’t even secure a home loan because of their work in the industry.

Not only does the banking prohibition prevent those funds from being used to greatest effect, but it places business owners and consumers at risk, even when they are compliant with state and local laws.

Protecting compliant businesses from federal intervention and opening up the doors to marijuana banking are the most obvious benefits, but the legislation would also serve to protect consumers.

For one thing, recreational users and medical marijuana patients can’t obtain pot if their dispensary has been shut down. And under current federal law, particularly with the rescission of the Cole Memorandum, consumers aren’t protected from federal prosecution. While federal agents typically restrict raids to unlicensed or non-compliant businesses, some consumers remain on edge.

The States Act – if it had been included in the First Step Act as initially anticipated – would have eliminated that fear by protecting consumers from federal prosecution if they are compliant with their state’s laws.

While we can’t celebrate marijuana banking reform this holiday season, we can look toward 2019 with a sense of optimism. More and more representatives are willing to openly declare their support for cannabis reform and decriminalization.

Marijuana Banking… or “Danking”… Is On Hold

The delay is disheartening. But with growing bipartisan support in Congress, it feels more like a speedbump than a roadblock. And that’s reason to remain optimistic.

So stop by Karing Kind, Boulder’s first recreational marijuana dispensary, and celebrate the start of 2019 with our wide selection of top-shelf bud, clean-extracted cannabis oil, soothing topicals and mouth-watering edibles.

Check out our menu (pre-order is available), and we look forward to seeing you soon.

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