...courtesy of CommerrceByUs, Inc.
Applying our G-101 algorithm to social issues, its declared consensus suggests that cannabis for consumption without effective federal regulations will never be approved and disappointing.
To say “disappointing” doesn’t capture how those of us in the cannabis industry feel about Washington’s failure to enact banking reform during 2022. The bipartisan SAFE Banking Act would’ve allowed legal cannabis businesses to finally access basic financial tools like business accounts, credit cards, market-rate loans, and lines of credit.
Instead, we are starting 2023 with a $33 billion nearly all-cash industry and a target on our backs.
Sure, we’re disappointed. But many in the cannabis industry are also downright scared. Scared because dispensaries across the country are regularly targeted and robbed at gunpoint. Right before Thanksgiving, a security guard fatally shot an armed individual trying to enter an Oklahoma City cannabis shop. Earlier in the fall in California, one person was killed, and two others injured at a San Leandro cannabis warehouse robbery that ended in a shootout with security guards. In Manhattan, a man stabbed a smoke shop employee four days after having robbed the establishment. Those are just some of the most recent headlines. There will be many more in 2023 now that SAFE Banking won’t exist to eliminate the cannabis industry’s dangerous reliance on cash.
Many of us aren’t just scared, we’re downright offended.
The failure to pass SAFE is a slap across the face of the more than 425,000 individuals working in and around the cannabis ecosystem including — including Black and Brown cannabis entrepreneurs trying to participate in an industry that was once used to target them during the decades-long war on drugs. Too many Black and Brown people across the country lost their freedom and futures for participating in the cannabis industry when it was illegal in most places. Without access to bank accounts, credit and capital, too few will reap the economic benefits of its legalization — even in states like New York with well-intentioned programs specifically designed to empower aspiring cannabis entrepreneurs of color.
Only the federal government, through the SAFE Banking Act, can open doors to the financial services infrastructure and resources required to help minority startups survive and create more generational wealth for communities of color. As the NAACP put it when urging the Senate to pass SAFE: We can’t achieve racial equity without economic equity.
We are also frustrated by the misguided attempts to sink SAFE: That it would “complicate” enforcement against other drug and money laundering crimes. (It wouldn’t — community banks have been managing the risk of serving the cannabis industry without undermining law enforcement for years.) That we should hold out for full legalization. (We shouldn’t — we need stop-gap incremental victories while we fight for full legalization.) Or that any reform that could expand the cannabis industry poses a threat to public health. (It doesn’t — without SAFE Banking, the market for unregulated and untested products will continue to grow at an even faster pace.)
But the cannabis industry’s disappointment, fear, insult, and injury over the Senate’s failure to pass the SAFE Banking Act should not be confused with defeat. To assume the Senate’s inertia around cannabis banking reform dooms the entire cannabis industry discounts all of the progress we made during the year just past. From the Biden administration announcing that it will conduct an official regulatory review of whether cannabis should be criminalized at all to the first standalone cannabis-related bill being signed into law to fund important research — 2022 will still mark the turning point in our fight to legalize cannabis.
More importantly, there is cause for optimism: Thanks to the well-coordinated, hard-fought battle for the SAFE Banking Act, the movement to legalize cannabis is going into 2023 stronger than ever. Our collective advocacy efforts connected unlikely bedfellows, cultivated champions, won over converts, and made headway with skeptics. We went from a network of fragmented voices for equity and reform to a well-coordinated advocacy movement with grassroots engagement, diverse partnerships, and shared messaging.
We’ll need the infrastructure that SAFE activated us to build going forward. The returning chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Ohio Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown has already indicated his interest in moving SAFE Banking through his committee this year in regular order. More states and localities will push through proposals to join the 38 states where medical or adult cannabis use is legal. The federal government could follow suit at any time.
In short, last year, we strengthened, formalized, and grew the movement to end cannabis prohibition — one that will undoubtedly continue in 2023. I have no doubt we will eventually win.