The cannabis industry is still hoping that Congress will rise up before the end of the year and pass a piece of legislation allowing growers and dispensaries to finally do business with financial institutions. No, it’s not that they are desperate to get your bankers high. It’s just that weed slingers in legal states have been forced for the past several years to run their operations on a cash-only basis because banks are afraid that the U.S. government, which still considers marijuana a no-no drug, is going to jam them up with money laundering charges.
There is a bill, however, currently building momentum in the U.S. House of Representatives known as the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Act that stands to turn the situation around. The only problem is it has zerochance of going the distance in 2019, and it will do absolutely nothing to remedy the realproblem the pot trade is facing right now: Illegal vape cartridges that are putting Americans in an early grave.
It was just last week that the head honcho of the American Bankers Association, Rob Nichols, said he expected the SAFE Banking Act was going to pass the House soon. In an interview with the podcast Engage, Nichols sounded optimistic that the boys and girls of the lower chamber are going to seal the deal before the end of October. Of course, news that this historic legislation was on the verge of getting a thumbs-up from Congress caused the social media to come alive with much enthusiasm, since maybe, just maybe, this baby step meant that prohibition was finally coming to an end.
Only no one stopped to consider that even though this popular banking measure stands a solid chance at getting through the House in the coming months, the Senate isn’t going to so much as poke it with a stick once it lands there. For starters, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the gatekeeper to the upper chamber, still isn’t interested in passing any legislation associated with legal weed. And secondly, he’s not about to do jack squat to help further the Democrat’s agenda, not now and definitely not before an election year. He’s made that perfectly clear.
Yet marijuana advocates insist that cannabis banking is one of the most important moves that Congress needs to make. Meanwhile, hundreds of people are becoming seriously ill and even dropping dead all across the nation from a “mysterious lung disease” associated with black market cannabis vapes. As I mentioned last week in another column for Forbes, this is one of those unforeseen predicaments that should force the hand of Congress and get them to up the ante on cannabis reform. Because just like the end days of alcohol prohibition, when the 21st Amendment was passed, in part, to stop thousands of people from dying each year due to tainted booze, Uncle Sam and his band of goons are going to have to do something soon to stop the bleeding. You see, the federal government has allowed the cannabis trade out of the bag just enough to cause chaos, uncertainty, and it has now resulted in a significant threat to public health and safety.
Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s former fearless leader, Scott Gottlieb, came out recently, presumably after reading my piece suggesting that legalization was the only way out of this madness, to say that the federal government may have no choice but to start regulating cannabis products. The gist of his comments was: As long as states allow legal weed and the feds continue to reject it, we should expect nothing less than a savage uprising in the outlaw market that could destroy more lives.
“Based on current reports it’s likely to be case most of the vaping injuries are related to illegal products and mostly THC and CBD,” Gottlieb said in a Twitter post. “It’s not clear FDA can regulate vape pen not sold for use with tobacco nicotine. Congress may need to expand FDA’s authority.”
So, what’s the right move here?
Well, there is only one logical choice. Congress needs to stop wasting time on a banking bill (and it is a waste of time considering the Senate isn’t yet on board), temporary amendments and just legalize marijuana nationwide, allowing the herb to be taxed and regulated just like alcohol and tobacco. This would give adults 21 and over the freedom to purchase pot products through legitimate sources and slowly eliminate the market for counterfeit ganja goods. Would it work? You bet it would. Nobody is on the streets these days trying to buy beer and vodka from the underground. It’s just too easy to get through legal channels. We just swipe our cards and go!
Cannabis needs the same consideration, especially now. Oh, and that banking issue will sort itself out as soon as marijuana is no longer listed on the Controlled Substances Act. It’s a simple solution.
Listen, history repeats itself, so the U.S. government should have seen this problem with tainted pot products coming a long time ago and done more to prevent black market hoodlums from swooping in to capitalize on conflicting state and federal law. Instead, lawmakers and President Trump (and even former President Barack Obama back when he held the keys to the White House) have continued to bury their heads in the sand, suggesting that pot legalization is only a state’s rights issue. But waiting any longer to make marijuana a national regulatory matter only stands to spawn more panic, fear, and amass devastating collateral damage. It is conceivable that the counterfeit vapes that have killed five people is just the beginning of this dreadful saga. There is just no telling what kind of beast is waiting for us up ahead. From what we are seeing so far, however, that sucker, whenever it finally jumps out from behind the bushes, is going to bite.
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