The effort to get banking access for legal cannabis businesses seems to have lost the wind in its sails for a moment, and while we wait for a new breeze in Congress, a wave of crime is targeting the legal cannabis industry’s fat stacks of cash.
Over the past few months, we’ve seen cannabis operators who police treated like criminals for 20 years being targeted by actual criminals. In December, one dispensary in San Diego County reported losing over $300,000 in cannabis products overnight. In Washington state, things have been getting so bad lately that the state removed the online map of cannabis permit holders out of fear that thieves were using it to find targets. There is an ongoing manhunt in Oklahoma for some dispensary parking lot stickup men, while another man was shot leaving an Oklahoma City dispensary on Dec. 31. Meanwhile, the suspect who robbed a Washington dispensary last Saturday is still at large. Keep in mind that these examples are merely a drop in the bucket of cannabis-related crime that has occurred in recent months.
So now that this cannabis crime wave is evident, who do we blame? Obviously, it’s worth blaming the people actually conducting the crimes, but who is creating the situation that allows them to prosper? There’s one easy answer: Senate Republicans, and namely, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell himself.
For years, state-legal cannabis dispensaries have been complaining that, due to federal prohibition, they’re forced to conduct business in cash. In 2019, it looked like Congress might finally fix the problem. In September, the House of Representatives passed the SAFE Banking Act, which would allow legal cannabis business to access federally backed banking services, with a vote of 321-103.
It was a huge moment for a bill that had failed to pass for the six previous years. The Hill even called it one of the top moments of the year for cannabis.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Democrat from Colorado, is one of the bill’s cosponsors. At the time, he said the SAFE Banking Act would “go a long way in getting cash off our streets and providing certainty so financial institutions can work with cannabis businesses and employees.”
Perlmutter also said he was looking forward to working with “Senate Banking Committee Chairman [Mike] Crapo, Ranking Member [Sherrod] Brown and the entire Senate as they take up this important issue.”
But that didn’t happen. The bill was dead on arrival, partially thanks to McConnell’s apparent oath to not hear debate on any cannabis legislation that doesn’t have anything to do with benefitting Kentucky hemp farmers.
We asked the experts about who is to blame over the rise of cannabis-related crime, and about what should be done to fix it.
The National Cannabis Industry Association’s Media Relations Director Morgan Fox told Cannabis Now that he thinks it is safe to say that lawmakers who delay passage of a workable cannabis banking bill must shoulder some of the responsibility for the ongoing public safety issues caused by lack of access to financial services.
But on the positive side, Fox did speak on the plan moving forward in the incremental steps that have been a hallmark of cannabis progress over the last two decades.
“We are hopeful that we can convince Sen. Crapo that the 2% THC cap he suggested is a non-starter and work with him and other Senate Republicans to pass legislation this year,” Fox said.
NORML’s Executive Director Erik Altieri, however, took a firmer stance.
“Any theft or injury that arises from cannabis businesses being forced to operate in a grey area is firmly on the shoulders of Senate Republican leadership,” he told Cannabis Now. “They can talk a big game about supporting states’ rights and small business, but their inaction puts an industry and lives at risk. They should be ashamed of their inaction and voters sure won’t forget come November.”