Biden’s Pardon Announcement Gives a Boost to SAFE Banking Prospects

As we previously reported, on October 6, President Biden took executive action and announced that he would issue pardons for all prior Federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana, and urged state governors to do the same. As part of his executive action, Biden also directed the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Attorney General to “initiate the administrative process to review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law,” which is currently classified as a Schedule I drug, along with heroin and LSD.

Many observers think that this executive action could usher in cannabis banking reforms. While some have noted that if cannabis is actually de-scheduled, banks and financial institutions will feel more comfortable banking with cannabis and cannabis-related companies, it seems more likely that Biden’s pardon announcement may push Congress to finally pass some version of the SAFE Banking Act.

After Biden’s announcement, Sen. Cory Booker (D, N.J.) said he was hopeful that Congress would pass federal legislation in the lame-duck session after the November election.  On that front, Booker alluded to “bipartisan movement” due to “problems in the banking industry” that many think refers to a version of “SAFE Banking Plus” or “SAFE Plus” that we previously reported senators were discussing.

The SAFE Banking Act – which has passed the House of Representatives seven times in recent years but has not been taken up in the Senate – would allow cannabis businesses to access the federal banking system and service providers to the cannabis industry such as attorneys, accountants, bankers and landlords would be permitted to accept payment from cannabis businesses without the risk of violating federal law.

“SAFE Plus” would add equity provisions to the SAFE Banking Act, ensuring equitable access to financial services for minority-owned cannabis businesses, requiring financial institutions to prove compliance with anti-discrimination laws, as well as other reforms like expungements, veterans medical cannabis access and more.

 

U.S. Senators May Introduce “SAFE Banking Plus” By End of Year

After finally introducing the comprehensive Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) in the U.S. Senate last month,  last week Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) softened his prior position on a separate, narrower cannabis banking bill when he said that he would now consider the banking bill with modifications. As we previously reported, the SAFE Banking Act would allow cannabis businesses to access the federal banking system and service providers to the cannabis industry such as attorneys, accountants, bankers and landlords would be permitted to accept payment from cannabis businesses without the risk of violating federal law. SAFE Banking has passed the House of Representatives seven times in recent years but so far has not been taken up in the Senate.

Since the introduction of the CAOA last month, which would not only permit cannabis companies to access the banking system but would legalize and decriminalize recreational cannabis with an eye toward supporting communities that have been most impacted by the war on drugs, Sens. Booker and Schumer (D-N.Y.) have said they would be willing to consider more incremental cannabis reform such as SAFE Banking with added equity provisions.  Many are referring to the as-yet proposed bill as “SAFE Banking Plus,” which would ensure equitable access to financial services for minority-owned cannabis businesses and require financial institutions to prove compliance with anti-discrimination laws, among other things.

Schumer and Booker have been meeting with other lawmakers to work on a compromise bill, and Booker said a proposal might come after the November elections and before the new Congress starts in January.

Long-Awaited Marijuana Legalization Bill Introduced in the U.S. Senate

More than a year after introducing a first draft, U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) finally introduced their proposed marijuana legislation, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) on Thursday, July 21.

The CAOA is a comprehensive bill that would not only permit cannabis companies to access the banking system but would legalize and decriminalize recreational cannabis with an eye toward supporting communities that have been most impacted by the war on drugs. The CAOA also provides for cannabis industry workers’ rights, a federal responsibility to set an impaired driving standard, expungements of criminal records and penalties for possessing or distributing large quantities of marijuana without a federal permit. It would also create a new federal definition for hemp that would increase the permissible THC by dry weight to 0.7 percent from the current 0.3 percent, and the definition would include all THC isomers, not just delta-9 THC. Other features of the bill include grant programs for small business owners hoping to enter the industry who come from communities that were disproportionately affected by the war on drugs, increased funding for law enforcement for illegal cultivation, and cannabis marketing restrictions.

Under the proposal, the Drug Enforcement Administration would no longer have jurisdiction over cannabis and would be regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) within the Treasury Department. The bill proposes a 5% to 12.5% excise tax for small and mid-sized cannabis producers. It would charge an initial tax of 10% on larger cannabis businesses and gradually increase it to 25%.

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism chaired by Booker scheduled a hearing for Tuesday, July 26 titled, “Decriminalizing Cannabis at the Federal Level: Necessary Steps to Address Past Harms.”

While the bill is unlikely to garner the required 60 votes to pass in the Senate, many see it as a first step toward opening the cannabis debate on Capitol Hill and passing incremental reform that could finally end the federal prohibition on cannabis.

As we have previously reported, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation multiple times in the past few years that would decriminalize cannabis and allow cannabis businesses to access the federal banking system. However, none of those measures have yet made it to the Senate floor.

 

U.S. Mayors Call on Congress to Pass Cannabis Reform

This week, the U.S. Conference of Mayors – which represents the 1,400 U.S. cities with populations of 30,000 or more – passed a resolution urging Congress to pass the SAFE Banking Act of 2021, the MORE Act and the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), which has yet to be formally introduced.

The House of Representatives has passed both the bipartisan SAFE Banking Act and the MORE Act at least six times in recent years but the Senate has yet to take these bills to a vote. Per the resolution, the SAFE Banking Act would “provide financial security for cannabis dispensaries and related companies and enhance public safety” while the MORE Act and/or the CAOA would “legaliz[e] the medicinal use of cannabis and the adult use of recreational cannabis.” Continue reading “U.S. Mayors Call on Congress to Pass Cannabis Reform”

California Governor Proposes a Cannabis Tax Reduction in an Effort to Shore Up the Legal Market

On Friday, May 13, California Gov. Gavin Newsom introduced proposed revisions to his 2022-2023 budget proposal, which would eliminate the cannabis cultivation tax rate beginning July 1, 2022.

The 15% excise tax on cannabis sales would remain, and the collection and remittance of that tax would be limited to retail sales beginning January 1, 2023. Currently, the cultivation tax rates are $10.08 per ounce of flower, $3.00 per ounce of trim, and $1.41 per ounce of fresh cannabis plant, and these taxes are paid on all recreational and medicinal cultivation of cannabis. Continue reading “California Governor Proposes a Cannabis Tax Reduction in an Effort to Shore Up the Legal Market”

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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