Sen. Raphael Warnock: Prioritizing Restorative Justice in Cannabis Reform

The Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act, which aims to protect banks that cater to state-legal marijuana markets from federal retribution, recently garnered attention from U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA). Interestingly, Warnock was the only Democrat who voted against this bill during a committee markup. His reason? An effort to ensure that equity remains at the forefront of marijuana reforms.

During an appearance on Crooked Media’s podcast, Lovett or Leave It, Warnock expressed concerns about the repercussions of passing a bill without addressing restorative justice, particularly for black and brown communities. He highlighted the negative impacts these communities have faced due to the decades-long war on drugs, particularly with regards to marijuana offenses.

While the SAFER Banking Act seeks to provide a “safe space” for businesses and banks in states where cannabis is legal, it does little for communities that have historically suffered due to drug-related offenses. Warnock’s pivotal question: “Who are we really making safer?”

Warnock proposed amendments to bolster the bill’s equity provisions. These included an expiration date contingent on a report from the Treasury Department proving that the bill aids in decreasing the racial wealth gap. Another amendment sought a government study to analyze the racial wealth gap concerning minority-owned cannabis businesses, pre and post the SAFER Banking Act.

However, these proposals did not find favor with the Senate Banking Committee. Warnock, in his speech, stressed that while easing federal restrictions around cannabis is essential, the current form of the bill prioritizes businesses over communities. He seeks to pair broader cannabis reforms with substantive measures that address restorative justice.

This conversation on restorative justice is crucial as the U.S., despite comprising only 6% of the global population, incarcerates approximately 50% of the world’s prisoners. The need for reforms akin to the Marshall Plan, which aided countries devastated by World War II, is evident. Communities, especially black and brown ones, have been adversely impacted and require recognition and restoration.

The chances of the marijuana banking bill passing this year remain uncertain, with just 13% of congressional staffers optimistic about its prospects, as per a recent Canvass Capitol Hill survey.

Other Senators have their reservations and concerns about the bill, too. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) intends to amend the SAFER Banking Act, including measures for state and local cannabis expungements and gun rights for marijuana consumers.

The road to cannabis banking reform is filled with diverse opinions, amendments, and challenges. The bipartisan support from state attorneys general shows a push for change, but the key is balancing business benefits with community reparations and justice. Only time will tell how these reforms shape the future landscape of cannabis in the U.S.

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