On Wednesday morning, Congressman Earl Blumenauer sent a letter to colleagues serving alongside him on The America COMPETES Act conference committee urging the group to keep the language that would provide financial services to the cannabis industry in the bill.
Blumenauer went on to call the current reality an irrational, unfair, and unsafe denial of banking services. He noted last month three people were killed in one week during robberies targeting the cannabis industry in Washington State. Further south this past Sunday saw an Oakland dispensary owner shot at their new facility that was barely a week old.
Blumenauer believes providing access to banking is a critical element of ending the violence targeting the cash-heavy industry.
Following the release of his letter, Blumenauer jumped on the phone with L.A. Weekly to talk about how things look at the moment for SAFE Banking surviving the conference committee. For those who don’t follow politics, the conference committee is where the House and Senate iron out the language differences in their separate versions of a bill. In this case, the leadership picked 107 people to finalize The America COMPETES Act.
“I felt that it was really important to capture what this moment represents because the whole COMPETES Act is one of the areas where the House has a much superior position to the Senate,” Blumenauer told L.A. Weekly of his letter that morning. “Particularly the cannabis provisions, this is something that I have been pounding away on from the moment we had state legalization. We’ve been fighting to protect state-legal activities.”
After running down the many cannabis success stories he’s seen on The Hill over the last decade, Blumenauer noted the six previous victories The SAFE Banking language has seen at various points over the years.
“Most recently, 321 votes were achieved. Even though we had 17 fewer people in Congress,” Blumenauer said. “So it was harder to get 321 votes, but we got them very strong.”
The stories have kept pouring into Blumenauer’s office on what banking access would mean to the industry. Just last week, an Oregon entrepreneur that dabbles in cannabis called the congressman in anguish. Blumenauer noted that Bank of America shut the man down entirely. They froze all his accounts, despite the fact that the bulk of his resources are not related to cannabis at all.
But despite the frequent tale of desperate operators looking for viable options, the conversation would turn back to the violence. Blumenauer noted the violence all over the Pacific Northwest and Northern California, and was saddened to hear of the events that unfolded in Oakland on Sunday when informed.
“This is one of the things that I am trying to get a message to some of my Senate friends who think they’re helping us in holding out for, you know, a bigger vision,” Blumenauer said of people who would attach banking services fate to The MORE Act.
Blumenauer argues his colleagues in The Senate think somehow that SAFE Banking is a bone that you throw to the financial industry and rich people. He doesn’t believe so, because even in the cannabis space, big operators can afford to enhance security and the extra costs that come in dealing with an all-cash business. This leaves the softer targets that didn’t have as many resources when they entered the cannabis industry to be victimized.
We asked Blumenauer if it’s ever frustrating, listening to those who talk in a way that suggests The MORE Act and SAFE Banking language can’t coexist?
“Absolutely drives me crazy,” Blumenauer quickly replied. “They absolutely are on separate tracks. We put banking in The MORE Act, but SAFE Banking stands alone. SAFE banking will help us be able to get reform across the finish line. It doesn’t take anything away. It adds to it, builds momentum, and it solves a humongous problem in terms of public safety, in terms of public perception, building momentum. And some people want to tie these things together, which I think is really unfortunate.”
Blumenauer’s main concern is where things will stand in the next Congress, if the senators can stall SAFE Banking in favor of having it as a chip in their forthcoming More Act debate. Even with all that, Blumenauer is thankful to have a Senate leadership that is committed to reform, even if he can’t always wrap his head around the approach.
“Now I think they could be a little more artful about how they do it,” Blumenauer said. “I mean, they don’t even have a bill. We were expecting that they were going to do something for 4/20. And then we got an announcement that it would come this summer.”
Even more worrisome to Blumenauer, there are some people that want to link SAFE Banking to this bill that they haven’t even drafted yet. He feels that’s just not constructive.
Blumenauer also elaborated on what it’s like pushing cannabis in the conference committee, compared to his efforts on the House floor.
“Even though it’s a huge conference committee, it’s a smaller universe,” Blumenauer replied. “And one of the things that’s kind of fun with this one is that it’s already embedded in a piece of legislation that most people want to pass. In fact, they’re desperate to pass it. So all we have to do is just hold the line.”