Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told Yahoo News! in a recent interview that believes the end to the federal cannabis prohibition is on the horizon, with legislation to provide cannabis industry access to banking services in the works.

He’s talking about the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation Banking Act  (SAFER Banking Act) which was passed in late September by a bipartisan majority in the Senate Banking Committee. The bill would allow financial institutions to give out additional small business loans while also providing legal protection for banks that work with cannabis retailers, like any other industry.

“Its time has come,” Schumer told Yahoo News! in a video interview. Thanks to the legalization of adult-use cannabis in Ohio, tipping the scales in terms of U.S. populations that now live in legal states, the pressure is on.

It’s important to note that the U.S. House of Representatives has approved earlier versions of the SAFER Banking Act—seven times—but the bill failed to gain 60 votes in order to advance to a Senate vote.

“Fifteen years ago, before marijuana was legalized anywhere, people said, ‘Oh, there’ll be a lot more crime’, ‘People will become much more addicted’. Guess what? None of that happened,” Schumer said, noting the lasting harm of the War on Drugs, which failed to extinguish drug abuse but instead led to the harsh criminalization of Black and brown communities. It’s bad enough that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called the War on Drugs “the New Jim Crow.” 

A 2020 analysis by the ACLU found that 43% of drug arrests in 2018 were for charges of possession and sale of cannabis, and even though data shows that white and Black Americans use cannabis at equal rates, Black Americans are nearly four times more likely than white Americans to be arrested.

“The bill tries to rectify some of these injustices,” Schumer said.

We’ve heard these comparisons before. Schumer said similar things in 2021, as the Biden administration was first gearing up. Two years ago, he said the sky didn’t fall when pot became legal for adult use in a handful of states.

“In 2018, I was the first member of the Democratic leadership to come out in support of ending the federal prohibition. I’m sure you ask, “Well what changed?” Well, my thinking evolved. When a few of the early states—Oregon and Colorado—wanted to legalize, all the opponents talked about the parade of horribles: Crime would go up. Drug use would go up. Everything bad would happen,” Schumer told Politico. “The legalization of states worked out remarkably well. They were a great success. The parade of horribles never came about, and people got more freedom. And people in those states seem very happy.”

Why the SAFER Banking Act Needs to Be Adopted into Law

The cash-only cannabis industry is open season for burglars and criminals who know that dispensaries are loaded with cash, not having capabilities to run purchases on debit or credit cards.

“Forcing legal businesses to operate in all cash is dangerous for our communities,” Sen. Jeff Merkley, lead sponsor of the bill, said in a statement. “The only people benefiting from the current system are criminals.”

Some are doubtful the outcome will be any different this time around, after the Senate was done making revisions to the bill.

“The Senate’s rewrite … throws out carefully crafted bipartisan work and crams in gross overreach to potentially crush industries not in line with the president’s agenda,” Republican Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer told Politico in September. “As it’s currently written, it is dead on arrival in the House.”

The SAFER Banking Act advanced in the Senate Banking Committee last September, clearing a big hurdle in the path to legal cannabis businesses potentially moving away from the dangerous cash-only system they currently operate on.

“Cannabis banking is just one part of the necessary conversation about marijuana policy. There is still much work to be done to acknowledge and mend the damage done by the war on drugs, work to make sure everyone—including our veterans—has access to the medicine they need and allow medical and scientific research on cannabis,” said Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sen. Sherrod Brown, in a press release.

SAFER Banking would provide much-needed legal protections for financial institutions to serve businesses in the currently cash-dependent cannabis trade.

If passed, the SAFER Banking Act could provide a much needed lifeline for an industry forced to do business in cash which puts thousands of budtenders, delivery drivers, growers and other ancillary cannabis sector employees at risk of violent crime. It would also provide capital for businesses currently forced to operate using their own money or capital secured through private sources.

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