Director, Commonwealth Policy Center

Last week, the House of Representatives passed an enormous bill seeking to aid more Americans as our country deals with the continued economic fallout from COVID-19. Buried in this bill was a blatant giveaway to the federally illegal marijuana industry, an act seeking to grant Big Pot access to federal banks.

In other words: nothing to do with COVID-19.

Burying unrelated lobbyist giveaways in pieces of legislation is nothing new. But this instance is especially wrong because the thing that stands to gain – the marijuana industry – has a direct negative impact on our current health crisis. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others in Congress were quick to mock this, and rightfully so. While our nation’s small businesses have been devastated, the marijuana industry fought tooth and nail against state and local governments in order to stay open – reaping record profits as a result. The fact that Big Marijuana would try to use a pandemic relief bill to enrich itself is only the latest indicator that this illegal industry is only concerned with its bottom-line.

During this health crisis, Americans have heeded the advice of leaders in public health, such as U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams. We should listen to what he has to say about pot, too. A recent rise in youth marijuana use and use during pregnancy prompted Surgeon General Adams to issue a historic warning about today’s marijuana. He was very clear: “no amount of pot is suitable for young people and pregnant women,” and called attention to the growing body of scientific evidence showing regular use increases the risk of psychosis, schizophrenia, depression, suicide, lower IQ, and other disorders. Raising awareness on these health issues has been a crucial part of the joint efforts of the Commonwealth Policy Center and Smart Approaches to Marijuana here in Kentucky and nationwide. Banking access, which has already hit a roadblock in the Senate due to Banking Committee Chairman Senator Mike Crapo’s concerns over the implications on public health, would put the pedal to the metal on the industry’s growth and drastically increase harms such as those which California and Colorado are witnessing. What’s more, it would greatly benefit criminals who use legalization as a cover for drug trafficking. Foreign cartels and crime syndicates have set up shop in Colorado and California, growing marijuana on federal lands and in subdivisions using indentured servitude. Unlicensed operators in these states also have storefronts, delivery services, and even pay for internet advertising. It is not far-fetched to believe they would also apply for bank accounts if given the opportunity.

No industry that has blatantly attempted to capitalize on this pandemic at every turn should receive any handout or preferential treatment, especially not when such treatment would vastly accelerate the creation of the next Big Tobacco and potentially aid drug traffickers. Senator McConnell and others in Congress should continue to oppose the SAFE Banking Act and protect public health and safety. Our country’s health – and our ability to deal with the unprecedented crisis that is COVID-19 – demands it.

Richard Nelson serves as the Executive Director of the Commonwealth Policy Center.

Luke Niforatos serves as the Executive Vice President of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM).