As Democrats in Congress appear eager to finally tackle comprehensive marijuana reform, Colorado Governor Jared Polis hopes they address one particular cannabis policy first.
In a letter to a trio of Democratic senators on Friday, Polis urged them to pursue legislation implementing new banking and taxation measures that would enable financial institutions to work with cannabis businesses.
“I am thrilled that you are bringing forward a long-term, comprehensive solution that deschedules cannabis while enhancing social equity pathways,” wrote Polis, a Democrat serving his first term as governor of Colorado. “I hope that you will first focus your efforts on the two biggest barriers to the success of the cannabis industry: banking and IRS Code Section 280E (280E).
He said that “the cannabis industry has been stymied by 280E, which prevents these businesses from taking business-related deductions associated with the sale of cannabis.
“Congress must swiftly act to pass any measure, a number of which have been introduced in past sessions, to make an exception for legal cannabis businesses from 280E,” he wrote. “While the CAOA would address this issue by descheduling cannabis, a narrow measure focused on relieving cannabis businesses from the detrimental effects of 280E would expeditiously solve this problem.”
Polis wrote the letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Cory Booker and Senator Ron Wyden, who have thrown their weight behind the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), legislation that would effectively legalize marijuana on the federal level.
The bill was introduced in draft form by the three Democratic senators last month.
But while members of Congress continue to wrangle out the details of that legislation, Polis believes there is a ready-made cannabis reform bill just waiting to be passed: the SAFE Banking Act, which Polis backed as a member of Congress representing Colorado’s second district.
“Legislation to address these issues has more bipartisan support than ever before and can be passed in the short-term as you continue to work on the details of the CAOA,” Polis wrote in the letter.
The SAFE Banking Act, Polis said, “has passed the U.S. House of Representatives four times but has never been taken up by the Senate.
“As a Congressman, I co-sponsored Representative Ed Perlmutter’s SAFE Banking Act because it is essential to bringing cannabis payments out of the shadows,” Polis wrote. “Medical and recreational cannabis sales in the U.S. were estimated to total $17.5 billion last year, but because of antiquated federal banking regulations, almost all cannabis transactions are cash-based. Not only are cash-only businesses targets for crime, cannabis businesses are further disadvantaged compared to other legal businesses by being unable to open bank accounts or obtain loans at reasonable rates.”
Polis continued to explain that it’s harmful for an industry as successful and large as cannabis industry to be forbidden from legitimate banking institutions. Polis continued, “The cannabis industry is simply too large to be prohibited from banking opportunities, and the Senate must remedy this harm by bringing this measure up for a vote in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs immediately.”
Polis, a longtime cannabis reform advocate, wrote the letter amid growing signs that Democrats are poised to deschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act, a move that would finally put the federal government in line with states like Colorado that have already legalized pot.
Schumer said earlier this year that Democrats were ready to seriously tackle the issue––even as President Joe Biden remained wary of legalization.
“We will move forward,” Schumer said. “[Biden] said he’s studying the issue, so [I] obviously want to give him a little time to study it. I want to make my arguments to him, as many other advocates will. But at some point we’re going to move forward, period.”