Why The SAFE Banking Act Hinders Cannabis Decriminalization Efforts

When it comes to cannabis reform, Congress focuses too much on banking and not enough on decriminalization. 

That's according to Justin Strekal, a political director at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

"[The banking bill] is separate from the criminalization element," said Strekal. "The banking bill is not protection for people. It's protection for banks to service the businesses that would still technically be illegal under federal law."

When NORML launched in 1970, one of its goals was to remove all criminal penalties for the private possession of marijuana by adults. That effort continues today. But in the current era, where cannabis is legal in some form in 33 states, Senate lawmakers are focusing more on the SAFE Banking Act.

Other bills, such as the MORE Act, do focus on reform that groups like NORML have long-fought to see in America. However, the effort runs into opposition with the SAFE Banking Act and Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee Mike Crapo.

"The House now must focus on addressing the underlying criminalization," Strekal said. "We do believe that if given an up or down vote, we would see either a bill to simply end prohibition or the MORE Act which includes reparative justice components pass."

Strekal believes supporting SAFE Banking presents a lower political risk for lawmakers.

"It's almost like they dip their toe in now, so theoretically, they should be that much more willing to engage now that we're having this national conversation," he added.

Calls For Change Could Impact Congressional Efforts

With people demanding justice and structural reform in the U.S., Strekal said people must remember the history of cannabis prohibition.

"The criminal relation of marijuana was not predicated on any substantial public health or evidence-based approach. It was rooted in racial animus."

Despite the calls for reform, Strekal isn't sure of any outcomes on Capitol Hill. His uncertainty lies in two parts.

The COVID-19 pandemic keeps most people, including Strekal, away from Congress at this time. Even if allowed, the political director said no one could accurately gauge how Congress will react to cannabis.

Strekal said he once had confidence in forecasting Congressional outcomes. However, the current climate is tenuous at best.

Despite the more palatable nature of banking, Strekal continues to focus on passing a bill to end federal criminalization in the House.

Related Links:

How To Become A Cannabis Advocate: NORML And Green Flower Now Offer An Online Course

Marijuana Use And The Coronavirus Outbreak: Safety Guidelines From NORML


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