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The cannabis industry’s hopes for marijuana banking reform were dashed on Monday, as the Senate appeared set to omit the SAFE banking act from a must-pass spending package. 

As Marijuana Moment first reported on Monday, cannabis banking reform will not be in the omnibus funding package. It is unclear if the package will include other marijuana and drug policy reforms.

The House of Representatives has already passed the SAFE (Secure and Fair Enforcement) Banking Act seven times, but it has been scuttled every time once it reached the U.S. Senate. 

Co-Sponsor of the bill Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) said on Tuesday that “the failure to pass my bipartisan ‘SAFE Banking Act’ means communities in Montana and across our country will remain vulnerable to crime where legal businesses are forced to operate in all-cash.” 

Daines added, “our small businesses, law enforcement, and communities deserve better.”

Boris Jordan, the founder and chairman of multi-state cannabis company Curaleaf, said Monday that “the time for SAFE banking is now, and the fact that this critical legislation was not included in the omnibus is incredibly disappointing, and the entire industry will suffer as a result of this failure.”

Korean added that the news is “sadly, a win for the illegal market, which pays no taxes and has no regulations or testing safeties in place.”

"To say that we're disappointed is an understatement"

U.S. Cannabis Council CEO Khadijah Tribble said Monday, “not only did the Senate squander a chance to score a bipartisan victory this year, its inaction threatens public safety and undermines the progress states are making in mending the racial inequities of the war on drugs.” 

Tribble added, "to say that we're disappointed is an understatement.”

Erik Altieri, the Executive Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said that “democrats’ failure and the GOP’s continued resistance to any progress is out of step with voters’ opinion, is bad politics, and most importantly, it is bad public policy.”

The SAFE banking act “prohibits a federal banking regulator from penalizing a depository institution for providing banking services to a legitimate cannabis-related business.”

Because cannabis is still considered a Schedule 1 controlled substance under federal law, banking institutions are often reluctant to lend money to cannabis businesses, fearing they could face legal consequences. 

According to U.S. Treasury Department data, only around 11 percent of banks and 4 percent of credit unions in the U.S. provide banking services to cannabis businesses.

The difficulty of accessing banking services has driven many retail cannabis businesses to run solely on cash, making them a target for robberies and putting employees and customers in danger. 

But while the SAFE banking act again failed in the Senate, a new report highlights the progress that has been made on pardons for cannabis-related offenses. 

Two Million Cannabis-Related Pardons Have Been Issued Since 2018

According to a new report from NORML, state officials have issued around 2 million pardons for people with minor cannabis offenses.

The figures include more than 1.7 million cannabis-related expungements and more than 100,000 pardons since 2018. 

According to NORML estimates, there have been more than 29 million marijuana-related arrests in the United States since 1965. Of these, around 90 percent were for low-level cannabis possession offenses. 

“Our sense of justice and our principles of fairness demand that public officials and the courts move swiftly to right the past wrongs of cannabis prohibition and criminalization,” NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said in a post announcing the new report. 

Among others, the NORML report mentions Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s plans to pardon more than 45,000 people with minor cannabis convictions. Also in November, Birmingham, Alabama Mayor Randall Woodfin announced that he had pardoned around 23,000 city residents with cannabis convictions. 

According to NORML, California has cleared an estimated 200,000 marijuana-related convictions. In addition, the New Jersey state judiciary announced in 2021 that they had vacated or dismissed more than 362,000 cannabis cases or convictions.  

“No one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana”

Two months before the NORML report was published, President Joe Biden announced plans to pardon all prior federal offenses for simple marijuana possession. 

“There are thousands of people who were previously convicted of simple possession who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result,” Biden said in a tweet.

Biden also tweeted that he is calling on state governors to issue pardons for “simple state marijuana possession offenses.”

“Sending people to jail for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives – for conduct that is legal in many states. That’s before you address the clear racial disparities around prosecution and conviction. Today, we begin to right these wrongs,” Biden tweeted

The President also stated that he has called on Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra to begin the process of examining how marijuana is scheduled under federal law. 

Pardons in only 10 minutes 

In December, U.S. Pardon Attorney Elizabeth Oyer stated that the Justice Department would soon allow people to obtain certificates for presidential marijuana pardons through a 10-minute application process, Marijuana Moment reported.

Oyer said she expects the application to be a single-page form that requires only some basic information from the applicant. 

Until the form is ready, Oyer called on anyone suffering “collateral consequences” to apply for a pardon through the traditional application. 

“A historic first for federal cannabis reform”

In early December, President Biden signed into law a marijuana research bill that cleared the 

House and Senate earlier in the year. The bill is the first standalone federal cannabis reform legislation in U.S. history.

The Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol (CBD) Research Expansion Act is meant to make it easier for researchers to obtain large quantities of cannabis. It will allow accredited schools, practitioners, manufacturers, and research institutions to grow cannabis for their research. The bill also encourages the Food and Drug Administration to develop cannabis-derived medicines. 

One of the bill's authors, Senator Brian Schatz, said in early December, "our new law will remove excessive barriers that make it difficult for researchers to study the effectiveness and safety of marijuana and hopefully, give patients more treatment options.”

The polls are transparent: Americans support cannabis legalization

To a certain extent, increased support for cannabis legalization is good politics - at least if the polls are to be believed. 

According to a Pew Research Center survey in November, Americans “overwhelmingly” say they support the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana. 

According to the survey, 59% of Americans say marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use. Only 30% say it should be legal for medical use only. The survey found that only 10% of respondents believe cannabis should not be legal.

Like previous Pew reports, the latest survey showed that age and political affiliation played a significant role in respondents' answers. According to the report, only 30% of respondents over age 75 think cannabis should be legal for recreational and medical purposes. Among 18-29-year-old respondents, 72% said they support full legalization. 

The survey also found that only 45% of Republicans support full legalization, while 73% of Democrats support recreational and medical cannabis.

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Ben Hartman, Content Manager

Ben Hartman is a cannabis writing and marketing professional with over 15 years of experience in journalism and digital content creation. Ben was formerly the senior writer and research and analysis lead for The Cannigma.

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