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RVC residents oppose SAFE Banking Act

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As health concerns over vaping and marijuana usage grow, members of the Rockville Centre community are taking action to curb the epidemic before it gets worse. Last week, a group of concerned parents, substance abuse professionals, and law enforcement members held a news conference on Front Street in Rockville Centre urging Senators Kristen Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer to oppose efforts to extend banking access to the marijuana industry. 

“We are in the midst of a five-alarm fire health crisis,” Ruthanne McCormack, project coordinator for the Rockville Centre Coalition for Youth, said. “People are getting sick and dying from marijuana vapes, the opioid epidemic continues to rattle our country to its core, and the Surgeon General is doing everything he can to warn our young people to the health dangers of marijuana, while our lawmakers rush to promote the commercial industry. Now is not the time to reward the peddlers of addiction.”

The opposition came after the House of Representatives approved a bill protecting banks that serve marijuana businesses. The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act passed 321 to 103 on Sept. 25. The Senate is expected to vote on the legislation by the end of the year. Sponsored by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), supporters believe the reform is necessary in order to increase financial transparency and mitigate risks associated with businesses that operate mainly on a cash-only basis. Some banks have been penalized by federal regulators for taking on the marijuana businesses as clients in states where it is legal to sell.

“Our bill is focused solely on taking cash off the streets and making our communities safe,” Perlmutter said, “and only congress can take these steps to provide certainty for businesses, employees and financial institutions across the country.”

If the Senate passes the bill and the president signs it, the policy will permanently become a law.

Schumer said he believes the bill fails to include a number of important priorities. Prior to the House vote, Schumer said he thinks Congress needs to go further with enacting federal marijuana reform. “We need decriminalization at the federal level, criminal justice reform and investment in opportunity for minority and women-owned businesses,” he said in a tweet.

As of press time, no date was set for a Senate vote.

“As a parent, I am gravely concerned that our leadership in Congress could even begin to think now is the time to reward the marijuana industry with such a large handout,” Melissa Robbins, of Philadelphia, a parent concerned with the youth vaping epidemic and subsequent health crisis, said. “Every day I turn on the news, another death, another round of reports of illness caused by pot vaping. How many more families must suffer before our government gets the message?”

Speakers at the news conference highlighted the litany of concerns they have with allowing the marijuana industry banking access. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaping is responsible for more than 1,400 cases of debilitating illness and at least 33 deaths nationwide.

“Banking access for the marijuana industry will put pedal to the metal on Big Marijuana exploiting communities of color and low income,” said Abu Edwards, director of state affairs for Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) Action. “Additionally, with such a hazy understanding of the health effects of high potency marijuana and potentially fatal products on the market, any expansion and promotion of increased marijuana use is misguided.”

Several former Drug Enforcement Agency administrators and a half-dozen former directors of the Office of National Drug Control Policy have spoken up in opposition to the bill citing concerns that it will have unintended consequences, noting that criminal gangs and foreign cartels are extremely active in states that have legalized the production and use of marijuana, using the state-legal status as cover for massive trafficking operations. In a letter sent to the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, they said that if Congress allows the marijuana industry access to the financial system, these drug traffickers would have unprecedented access to money laundering opportunities. 

“As a former director of the Westchester Intelligence Center, I know firsthand the strength and the intelligence of drug traffickers,” said William Hayes, former Bedford Police Chief and former executive director of the Office of the Westchester County District Attorney. “Make no mistake, banking access would be a boon for cartels and other criminal organizations seeking to launder money through the industry.”