Civil rights groups want ‘holistic’ marijuana reform before banking vote

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Seven civil rights groups have sent a letter to U.S. House Democratic leadership asking to delay voting on a cannabis banking bill.

The groups are requesting a vote be put off until more comprehensive reforms addressing criminal and social justice issues are considered.

“We are concerned that if the House approves this bill, it will undermine broader and more inclusive efforts to reform our country’s marijuana laws,” states the letter, which was addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland.

“The banking bill does not address marijuana reform holistically. Instead, it narrowly addresses the issue of banking and improved access to financial services, measures that would benefit the marijuana industry, not communities who have felt the brunt of prohibition,” the letter added.

The letter, first reported by Politico, was sent by a group that included the American Civil Liberties Union, Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch, and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Mariel Saez, Hoyer’s deputy communications director, wrote in an email Wednesday to Marijuana Business Daily that Hoyer received the letter “and is discussing the legislation with members. A vote has not been scheduled.”

Saez said last week that Hoyer intended to put the SAFE Banking Act to a vote before the end of September, after consulting with other House leaders, committee chairs and members.

The SAFE Banking Act would permit financial institutions and insurance companies to serve cannabis and ancillary companies without fear of federal punishment.

Pressure to consider cannabis reform that addresses social and criminal justice issues not only is coming from the outside, but within the Democratic Party as well, particularly progressives.

It’s a concern that has been raised at committee hearings and is a focal point of House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler’s Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019.

The civil rights groups signing the letter specifically urged Congress to move forward with the MORE Act.

MORE has in effect supplanted the STATES Act as the leading comprehensive bill in the House.

The STATES Act, which would permit states the right to choose how to regulate marijuana, doesn’t include specific social and criminal justice provisions.

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