Cannabis: In Focus

  • SAFER Banking Act Heads to Senate Floor
  • U.S. Supreme Court Declines Invitation to Review Cannabis Precedent
  • New Report Finds States’ Treatment of Cannabis Convictions Varies Greatly Even After Legalization

SAFER Banking Act Heads to Senate Floor

On September 27, the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act (S.2860) was reported out from the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs with bipartisan support. It’s now up to Senator Chuck Schumer (D. NY) to bring the bill to the Senate floor. Schumer has signaled that he may support incorporating the Gram Act and Hope Act as amendments to garner bipartisan support, though some think that the move may have the opposite effect.

Previous versions of the bill, formerly known as the SAFE Banking Act, passed in the House six times but failed to move through the Senate until now. This version of the bill has not yet been taken up in the House. With Jim Jordan currently in line for Speakership, it’s not at all clear that any such bill would see a vote in the House.

The SAFER Banking Act would make it easier for banks to serve the cannabis industry by permitting financial institutions to conduct business with state-legal cannabis businesses. As it stands now, cannabis businesses must operate in cash, increasing risk to personnel and property. In addition to addressing a public safety issue, cannabis banking reform could allow retailers to accept credit cards and make it easier for businesses to access mortgages and other financial services.

U.S. Supreme Court Declines Invitation to Review Cannabis Precedent

The U.S. Supreme Court, on October 2, 2023, rejected a petition for a writ of certiorari (Case No. 23-41) filed by a California couple alleging that Mendocino County wrongly denied their petition for a cannabis cultivation permit. In Borges v. County of Mendocino, the couple argued that the denial of their permit violated their substantive due process and equal protection rights.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the dismissal of the couple’s claims, relying in part on the 2005 precedent of Gonzales v. Raich, which held that even medical marijuana homegrown for personal use affected interstate commerce because a small amount of cannabis could have a “significant impact on both the supply and demand sides of the market for marijuana.”

In the cert petition, plaintiffs argued that the issue deserves the Supreme Court’s review due to the changing views of cannabis legalization, with more than two-thirds of the states legalizing cannabis in some form. By denying cert, the Court declined plaintiff’s invitation to review Gonzales.

New Report Finds States’ Treatment of Cannabis Convictions Varies Greatly Even After Legalization

The Last Prisoner Project (LPP) issued a new report, “The State of Cannabis Justice Report,” examining the status of criminal and social justice policy amid increased state-level cannabis legalization. Despite changing public perceptions about cannabis legalization, the report notes that “millions of individuals still bear the life-long burden of having a cannabis record” while tens of thousands remain incarcerated for cannabis-related convictions.

While increasingly more states are enacting relief for people convicted of nonviolent cannabis-related offenses (such as pardons, resentencing, and record expungement), the nonprofit found that the implementation of these policies falls behind in every state evaluated. LPP rated each state against a rubric based on how broadly and effectively state policies offer relief for past cannabis offenses. In LPP’s review, California and Minnesota received top marks, but the majority of states with legal cannabis scored a “C” grade or below.