Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has been a longtime opponent of reforming marijuana laws, yet the Kentucky Republican will go down in history as the Senator who helped legalize industrial hemp in the U.S. However, due to confusion between federal and state laws around hemp and cannabis, the commercial hemp industry – as well as the legal marijuana industry – has been severely hampered by the banking industry’s reluctance to provide services to cannabis-related businesses.
To help reconcile this issue, in late September the House of Representatives passed the SAFE Banking Act (Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act) to allow banking services for hemp and cannabis-related businesses. Now that the bill has reached the Senate, McConnell’s support to pass the banking legislation is critical to furthering the hemp agriculture and business he originally championed.
To learn more about the issue, McConnell earlier this week made a discreet two-day visit to California to meet over lunch with hemp and cannabis leaders, small business owners and at least one hemp farmer, and to take a tour of a cannabis-related company, MarketWatch reported. The cannabis industry representatives participating in the meetings advocated to Senator McConnell that banking and credit card transaction reform is necessary because confusion over current laws unfairly penalizes businesses that obey federal laws, such as hemp farmers producing the crop for legal CBD products, for example.
“I think this is absolutely positive that McConnell is meeting with stakeholders in the cannabis market. The U.S. market needs the banking act to flourish; without it – there are legitimate companies that are following rules that are facing major obstacles. Banking legislation would be a huge positive catalyst,” Jason Zandberg, a financial analyst with PI Financial, told MarketWatch.
Calling marijuana an “illicit cousin” to hemp, McConnell has been on the fence regarding the Senate taking up the SAFE Banking Act bill. However, a provision in the bill grants specific protections to hemp farmers, who are key voters in McConnell’s home state of Kentucky. According to MarketWatch, it was not immediately clear whether McConnell’s California visit signaled a shift in his thinking about cannabis banking reform, and his office did not respond to requests for comment.
According to one attendee interviewed by Marijuana Moment, at a 90-minute luncheon meeting at the Newport Beach Country Club with about 20 people, McConnell mostly listened as others spoke about challenges experienced by hemp, CBD and marijuana businesses under current federal laws. “We put our best face forward. We were strategic by not forcing him into a corner” by pressing him with pointed questions, the attendee said. According to Marijuana Moment, cannabis industry representatives, including a hemp farmer, made up about one third of the attendees at the fundraising luncheon, with the other seats taken by Orange County, CA, Republican donors.
“We’re happy to see that Leader McConnell is coming to see how a regulated market is an improvement over prohibition,” National Cannabis Industry Association Executive Director Aaron Smith told MarketWatch. “Right now, the priority is banking, which affects [McConnell’s] constituents in the hemp and CBD industry, as well as legal cannabis businesses here in California. That’s really our primary ask – common-sense policies around banking and public safety, and we’re hopeful [McConnell] will see the need for that and move forward along with Chairman [Sen. Mike] Crapo.” (Sen. Crapo (R-ID) is Chair of the Senate Banking Committee.)
While Republicans have advanced other bills to ease financial sector regulation, GOP senators have shown little interest in grappling with cannabis, The Hill reports. Only two GOP senators attended a July banking panel hearing on the bill: Sen. Crapo and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), one of only five Republican co-sponsors of the Senate version of the bill.
“Senator McConnell, a man who already ended decades of prohibition on industrial hemp production, needs to see the importance of changing marijuana laws in this country, too,” columnist Mike Adams wrote in Forbes.
Photo: Courtesy of the Office of Senator Mitch McConnell
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Steven Hoffman is Managing Director of Compass Natural, providing brand marketing, PR, social media, and strategic business development services to natural, organic, sustainable and hemp/CBD products businesses. Compass Natural serves in PR and programming for NoCo Hemp Expo and Southern Hemp Expo, and Hoffman serves as Editor of the weekly Let’s Talk Hemp Newsletter, published by We Are for Better Alternatives. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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