Proposed Marijuana-Banking Regs Are Anything But 'Safe'

Proposed Marijuana-Banking Regs Are Anything But 'Safe'
AP Photo/John Locher
Proposed Marijuana-Banking Regs Are Anything But 'Safe'
AP Photo/John Locher
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Most people know that 10 states have bucked the federal government by legalizing marijuana. What fewer people know is that a new industry – driven by greed – is trying to exploit U.S. financial rules to enter the federal banking system. 

They should be stopped. 

The marijuana industry’s no-holds-barred efforts to commercialize today’s high potency pot products knows no end. But it has begun to face stiff headwinds when faced by parents, teachers, and addiction treatment specialists across America who understand that another addiction-for-profit industry would be a public health disaster. 

In fact, because concerned Americans in 10 states beat back campaigns to legalize and commercialize marijuana this year, Big Marijuana interests – which now include former House Speaker John Boehner and his wealthy friends — have suddenly shifted their focus to getting Washington and the feds to do their bidding. 

The Senate Banking Committee recently heard testimony on the pot industry’s latest scheme: the so-called SAFE Banking Act. It’s a shadowy way to move marijuana normalization quietly through the legislative process. The bill will open the marijuana industry up for investment from major investment firms, hedge funds, pension funds, and established corporations that, as Boehner puts it, want to dive “headfirst into cannabis.” 

Pot industry investors have been joined by banking industry executives and Big Tobacco lobbyists in pushing through this bill, which has little to do with safety.  This unholy alliance is working behind the scenes to gain access to an industry that’s flush with cash. 

Less transparent than their partners in Big Marijuana, the banks are lobbying to participate in what is an illegal scheme under federal law.  It’s essentially money laundering. The bill pits the well-being of millions of Americans against the major hedge funds, investment houses, and Big Marijuana executives. 

And marijuana industry lobbyists are willing to propagate myths to generate support for this bill. At the hearing, the CEO of a Colorado-based pot shop chain testified that his company is an "all-cash" operation due to the lack of banking access. Undercover video depicting pot shops in Denver accepting credit cards clearly deflates this oft-reported claim. 

The SAFE Banking Act has little to do with safety.  It will ensure the rapid expansion of the pot marketplace while not addressing the long-lasting consequences that have been the hallmark of addiction-for-profit industries like Big Tobacco, the alcohol industry, and other groups that make up the financial foundation of the marijuana industry. The bill fails to acknowledge the industry’s practice of working around state regulations in order to continue marketing brightly colored, sugar-coated pot candies that appeal to children. 

The bill also fails to address the increase in crime around marijuana shops. While some may justify the bill by saying it will reduce these crime rates because the shops will no longer be cash-intensive operations, it fails to acknowledge that many pot shops have been targeted to steal marijuana, not cash. 

Additionally, as has been pointed out by law enforcement, the bill would make it “extremely difficult for banks to know whether large bundles of cash presented for deposit were made from the sale of marijuana rather than from the sale of heroin, fentanyl, or methamphetamine.” That ultimately could give cartels the color of legitimacy, enabling them to deposit bags of cash made from the sale of illicit drugs that are killing tens of thousands of Americans every year. 

For this reason, former officials from the Carter, Reagan, H.W. Bush, Clinton, W. Bush, and Obama administrations signed a joint letter to the Senate urging Congress to oppose marijuana industry banking access. 

The only people who stand to gain from this “Un”SAFE Baking Act are wealthy investors and Big Marijuana operators. This bill will do nothing to improve the lives of the mostly lower-income, minority and urban poor who are routinely targeted and victimized by these new pot giants. Worst of all, it will serve as a catalyst to expand the sale of a drug that, according to virtually every medical association in America, is a real threat to public health.

The pot industry thinks it pays to have friends in “high” places. We should prove them wrong.

Kevin Sabet, a former senior drug policy adviser to Presidents Obama, Bush, and Clinton, is founder and president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM).

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