CONCORD — Opponents to the legalization of marijuana are urging Congress to refrain from changing federal law to let banks invest in cannabis business in the 33 states where medicinal or recreational use is allowed.
State Sen. Robert Giuda, R-Warren, who led a Tuesday press conference on the topic, said this legislation would allow drug cartels to deliver “bagfuls of cash” to banks with commingled money coming from the sale of heroin, fentanyl or other illegal drugs.
“This sets a dangerous legal precedent setting up carte blanche for cartels to launder money from cocaine, methamphetamine or other illegal drugs,” Giuda said.
Giving banks this access would be at the worst possible time while New Hampshire faces an epidemic of overdoses from legal and illegal opioids, opponents said.
“We are currently in the middle of a multi-faceted health crisis,” Giuda said. “People are getting sick and dying from a lung illness from which the majority of cases are tied to vaping marijuana, the opioid epidemic continues to ravage Americans, and the Surgeon General is urging people to avoid using today’s highly potent pot. Our representatives in Congress should follow the lead of my fellow state lawmakers and oppose expanding this addiction-for-profit industry.”
Dr. David Strang is an emergency medicine specialist from Laconia and chairman of the New Hampshire Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Advisory Council.
He said the recent spate of eight vaping deaths, many tied to THC content that’s present in marijuana, should warn Congress away from taking any action now.
“As a medical doctor, I am extremely concerned about the potential unintended consequences associated with passing the SAFE Banking Act,” Dr. Strang said. “Sound scientific evidence, not financial urgency, should guide both federal and state marijuana policies. As it stands, the scientific evidence does not favor rewarding this industry with banking access and institutional investment.”
Matt Simon, New England political director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said this federal bill would help eliminate unnecessary risks that marijuana sellers face handling large volumes of cash.
“Senator Giuda’s misguided crusade against regulated cannabis businesses in the U.S. will do absolutely nothing to protect public health and safety. To the contrary, forcing state licensed businesses to operate on a cash-only basis only frustrates regulatory agencies and exposes businesses and employees to unnecessary risk,” Simon said.
“Ironically gangs, cartels, and drug dealers across the country are hoping that Senator Giuda and other prohibitionists will succeed in convincing Congress to preserve the status quo, which provides them with a competitive advantage over businesses that are struggling to comply with laws and regulations. Regardless, denying bank services to cannabis businesses doesn’t make any more sense than denying bank services to Anheuser-Busch or the New Hampshire Liquor Commission.”
For five years, New Hampshire has allowed patients to obtain marijuana for treatment of chronic pain and other qualifying conditions and there are now roughly 8,000 in the program.
In 2017, New Hampshire became the 22nd state to eliminate jail time for possession of a small amount of marijuana, three quarters of an ounce in this state.
The Legislature and governors from both political parties have consistently opposed bills to legalize marijuana and it’s expected to return as an issue next year.
“We fear this bill will be used as a back-door method to legalize marijuana in more states,” Dr. Strang said.
Abu Edwards, state affairs director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said the Congress needs to slow down momentum for this banking reform.
“Now is not the time to increase investments by billions of dollars in the marijuana industry without any guardrails. This is not your grandfather’s marijuana,” Edwards said.
“I am calling on the New Hampshire congressional delegation today to do the right thing and delay the safe banking vote until we have more information about these vaping deaths.”
The legislation has powerful supporters with more than 200 cosponsors in the U.S. House including Reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas, both D-NH, and more than 30 congressional Republicans.
Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, D-NH, aren’t cosponsors of the bill in the Senate.
There were 22 attorneys general that endorsed the measure; New Hampshire AG Gordon J. MacDonald was not one of them
“Medicinal cannabis businesses in New Hampshire should not be forced to operate their establishments in the shadows,” Kuster said in a statement. “The SAFE Banking Act is bipartisan legislation that will give these businesses access to basic banking services and enhance public safety.”
The House could act as early as Wednesday on its bill.
The American Bankers Association has gotten behind the measure and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has urged Congress to come with a fix to this issue.
Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, has reason to permit this bill to go forward before year’s end because industrial hemp is produced in large quantities in his home state.
Giuda said Congress should not be doing the bidding of federal regulators at the expense of public health.
“Treasury wants to make it easier for themselves. In solving the bankers’ problem we exacerbate the drug use crisis within our borders,” Giuda said.