Minority cannabis owners say federal banking bill should pass even without social justice provisions

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To get banking services for her cannabis delivery business, Precious Osage-Erese, COO of Roll Up Life in East Orange, said she had to drive two hours to the only financial institution that has her. would help.

That’s because most federally regulated banks don’t want anything to do with the burgeoning cannabis industry, which, while legal in New Jersey and other states, remains illegal under federal law. .

“Imagine if I can go to my local bank and do regular transactions,” Osage-Erese said Thursday on a Zoom conference call hosted by the US Cannabis Council. “We just need a start.”

Osage-Erese was one of many minority cannabis business owners urging Congress to pass the Safe and Fair Banking Act, or SAFE, which would allow banks to offer credit cards, checking accounts and more. financial services to legal weeding companies.

The House passed the bill in April, then included it in September in its version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which sets defense policy for the next 12 months. The Senate works on its own version, and then negotiators from both chambers will negotiate a final version.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., The main sponsor of the banking bill, urged that the banking provision be included in the final defense bill.

“By including the SAFE Banking Act in the final NDAA, we can protect our financial system, reduce public safety risks in our communities, and help support veteran and minority-owned businesses now,” said Perlmutter.

He said SAFE Banking was the only cannabis law that had the best chance of becoming law in the current Congress.

“The adoption of SAFE Banking is just the tip of the iceberg and it will help break the deadlock and pave the way for a broader and comprehensive cannabis reform and create a safer and more equitable industry.” , said Perlmutter.

But US Senator Cory Booker stands in the way. Although he leads the fight in the House to end the federal cannabis ban, Booker insists it be done in combination with social justice provisions to help individuals and communities ravaged by the war on drugs. .

“I support SAFE Banking, but it relieves the pressure of restorative justice provisions,” Booker told NJ Cannabis Insider.

“We know that not only do many community activists, but also big bankers, powerful interests on Wall Street want this bill, but we need their help to ensure that those convicted of non-violent drugs, who don’t can’t find a job, can. To get business licenses, of which the children are in poverty, we need their help to ensure that the erasure provisions, other restorative justice provisions that are not as popular with financial interests are also enforced.

But the absence of SAFE Banking hampers another restorative justice provision, ensuring that people of color have the opportunity to own their own cannabis business.

“It has also been a big barrier to entry for minorities and entrepreneurs, who face the inability to access basic financial services and the ability to expand their businesses through basic bank loans.” said Steve Hawkins, chief executive of the American Cannabis Council.

“We are finding that the small operators, the operators of color, who would depend more on banking as small business operators, are being turned down and falling behind,” Hawkins said.

Without banks to provide conventional loans, some minority-owned businesses are forced to cede partial ownership to investors, while the large multi-state operators they compete with have no problem raising the funds they need. need, said Leo Bridgewater, founder of BridgeH20 in Trenton. and Director of Veterans Outreach for Minorities for Medical Marijuana.

“Not having access to SAFE Banking is like having both hands tied behind your back,” Bridgewater said.

And Tiyahnn Bryant, founder and CEO of Roll Up Life, Inc., said he understands Booker’s position. “He believes people of color are going to be underlined again,” said Bryant.

But when it comes to his own business, “I can tell you that I need a bank,” he said.

“SAFE Banking is critically needed in the cannabis industry,” said Bryant. “It’s too dangerous to have all this money around.”

Indeed, forcing marijuana businesses to operate in cash makes them easy targets for criminals, he said.

James Bauer, head of retail compliance and corporate security for LivWell, which has stores in Colorado and Michigan. He said criminals crushed cars in its storefronts or broke through their rooftops, forcing the company to put up barriers in front of its businesses and reinforce its walls.

“Some of these security measures that I would expect to see when I was deployed to Afghanistan, not running a retail business,” Bauer said. “If you are in the cannabis industry you will always be a target as we are primarily a fully cash-based business and criminals are well aware of that.”

This story first appeared in NJ Cannabis Insider.

Jonathan D. Salant can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on @JDSalant.


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