Thanks to recalcitrant Republicans and a couple power-drunk conservative Democrats in Washington D.C., Congress remains paralyzed on any issue unrelated to greasing the wheels of the war machine, building roads, and I guess shoring up the postal service. But at a press conference in Tukwila on Wednesday morning, Washington Senator Patty Murray said she saw a real path forward for the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, a long-suffering proposal that would give cannabis-related businesses in states with legal pot industries access to financial institutions and services, which would allow them to accept credit/debt cards, access capital, and generally participate in the banking system. If her plan works, the bill could land on Biden's desk in a little over a month.
The path Murray sees involves a conference negotiation between U.S. House and Senate leaders on a pair of similar bills that aim to improve supply chain security and increase manufacturing, particularly for semiconductor chips. The House's version of the bill is called the America COMPETES Act, and it included the SAFE Banking Act. The Senate version of the proposal is called the United States Innovation and Competition Act, and it did not include in the SAFE Banking Act. Now, Murray, along with 12 other senators, will face off against approximately 50 House members to negotiate a compromise bill that could pass both chambers. During the presser, Murray said ensuring the SAFE Banking Act's inclusion in the final product counted as one of her "top priorities."
To add urgency to her argument, she'll frame the legislation as an anti-crime bill. Limited access to the banking system relegates pot shops to cash-only transactions, which makes them a target for robberies. "We continue to see in real time how dangerous and harmful it is to communities when we force our cannabis stores to operate in cash," she said, pointing to recent reports of robberies at pot shops around the state.
Shea Hynes, co-founder of Lux pot shops and a member of the Craft Cannabis Coalition, backed her up on that point. He said his stores saw "three robberies over the course of a few weeks" this year, and added that the trauma his staff experienced during those confrontations was "immeasurable." Among other tragic incidents, he mentioned the killing of Jordan Brown at World of Weed Cannabis Dispensary in Tacoma as an event that shook workers across the nation. Late last month, police charged a 16-year-old for first-degree murder in that case, according to KING 5.
WA State Treasurer Mike Pellicciotti, who also spoke at the conference, seconded Hynes's concerns about crime. "This is the type of thing that’s the difference between life and death," he said of passing the SAFE Banking Act. He also seconded Murray's optimism, saying his visit to D.C. to discuss the issue with members of Congress last month left him feeling "optimistic."
The reasons for pessimism, however, come not only from Republicans in states that haven't legalized weed, but also from Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, and Senator Cory Booker, who are pushing the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, a draft of a more comprehensive pot legalization bill that would also expunge pot convictions and allow people convicted of pot possession to apply for resentencing.
Murray called that bill "very important" but said it would "take a long time to get through both houses." By contrast, the SAFE Act passed the House in one form or another six times, garnered bipartisan support in the Senate, and is only one conference report away from Biden's desk. "Everyone is worried about crime and doing everything we can do to reduce that in our country... The best opportunity to do this is on the bipartisan bill. That bill is moving and has a really good chance of passing," she said.
Though the pot banking bill wouldn't solve every problem related to the country's racist war on drugs, passage could take some heat off pot shops, and it would constitute a step forward for those who want to make it in the legal industry. And, perhaps most importantly, it would allow potheads to skip the song and dance with the ATM in the corner and jump straight to the awkwardly enthusiastic conversation with your friendly neighborhood budtender.