Some cannabis advocates are so eager to see the SAFE Banking Act pass the Senate that they’re willing to go large—namely, in the form of a fake 51-foot joint. As Evan Sully reported for Bloomberg, the inflatable protest tool made its way to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, emblazoned with the message, “Congress, Pass the Joint.”
Beyond the delicious optics of a fat marijuana cigarette parading its way around the nation’s capital, the legislation in question would protect the cannabis industry from discriminatory business practices on behalf of banks. The SAFE Act would prevent financial institutions from labeling state legal marijuana-related transactions as unlawful activity.
It has seen unprecedented movement in Washington, compared to a passel of other legalization and decriminalization measures. The SAFE Act a.k.a. HR 1595 passed the House of Representatives last month with a vote of 321 to 103, and is now awaiting consideration from the Senate—admittedly a higher hurdle, given Republican reluctance to push forward pro-cannabis laws.
Currently, activists are awaiting Idaho Republican and Senate Banking Committee Chairperson Mike Crapo, who needs to schedule a vote for HR 1595 to ensure its further movement. Some think it’s likely that the bill will be attached to other legislation, because despite his support for the hemp industry and the sale of CBD products, there is doubt that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will go for a floor vote on the issue.
At the mega joint demonstration, which was organized by District of Columbia Marijuana Justice and other groups from Maryland, Virginia, and Colorado, activists said the bill could open the door to other kinds of laws to widen access to cannabis.
The SAFE Act is “like the first domino for federal legalization,” founder of District of Columbia Marijuana Justice, Adam Eidinger, told Bloomberg. “We need federal regulations for that. We need to come up with a tax system for interstate commerce, but the Banking Act is the first step.”
But the SAFE Act has also faced criticism as an opening act for federal cannabis legalization. Critics say that its focus on protecting industry, in a country where there are still people serving lifelong sentences for cannabis-related offenses, is inappropriate. A coalition of human rights groups including the ACLU sent a letter explaining that viewpoint to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi last month. The communication urged her to table the bill and instead prioritize measures that would “address the issue of marijuana prohibition holistically and inclusively,” seeking retroactive justice for communities of color that were negatively impacted by the war on drugs.
For their part, Tuesday’s protesters were also showing support for the Marijuana Justice Act, which has a more multi-lateral focus not just to protect businesses, but people who have been unfairly targeted by prohibition.
The rally featured a speech by Eleanor Holmes Norton, a House representative from Washington, D.C. who has pushed to remove bans on marijuana use in federally-subsidized housing. “Credit unions have already been handling banking for marijuana. But your big banks, your traditional banks have not been,” she said. “It is important that those who are involved in marijuana trade not be carrying around socks of money against their own safety and public safety.”