The HOPE Act and SAFE act: An Overview

When will HOPE be SAFE? — Spending Bills All Aiming Their Sights Towards Cannabis, including the HOPE and SAFE Acts

When will HOPE be SAFE? 

It sounds more like an existential question than a cannabis quandary, but the HOPE and SAFE Acts are some of the next steps in the federal legalization of marijuana – the outcomes would include passage of federal cannabis banking reforms (SAFE Act) as well as directing funds to states for marijuana conviction expungement efforts (HOPE Act.)

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE SAFE?

Under the current laws and federal regulations, while marijuana-related businesses (MRBs) are able to utilize financial institutions for their businesses, MRBs are not able to function in the normal sense of a retail business. Since most branded card companies will not process cannabis transactions on their networks, dispensaries are not able to process card transactions, leaving cash as the only option.

Coupled with the fact that many MRBs didn’t have established relationships with banking institutions until very recently, their legacy cash – or the cash they made before they established a banking relationship – was unable to be deposited without proving the cash source as legitimate. Leaving many in the cannabis industry wondering why they would bank in the first place. While the introduction of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (Banking) Act would not end this situation completely, it would be an incremental step in the federal acceptance of a legalized cannabis industry nationwide, making banking for MRBs and financial institutions far simpler. 

While the SAFE act would provide protections for financial institutions, the HOPE Act would focus on a completely different set of problems created by the legalization of cannabis: why there are so many making millions off of a product while others still sit, rotting away in a cell, for cannabis-related offenses. 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO HAVE HOPE?

The Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation introduced by House Republican David Joyce (R.) and House Democrat Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, aims to allocate $20 million dollars in funds meant to assist state and local governments with the process of reviewing and expunging previous cannabis convictions. 

Since 2010, an estimated 7.3 million people were arrested and/or incarcerated for marijuana-based offenses, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report. While the HOPE Act would not require expungements to occur, it would strongly impress the idea by ensuring those states who are attempting to go through this legal process would receive as much support as possible in order to do so. The act would also require states to study the impact of marijuana prohibition, especially on marginalized communities, and report the findings. 

Findings that could play an integral role in the furthering the call for nationwide legalization, and expungement. 

WHAT IT MEANS FOR LEGALIZATION 

Federal legalization may be a far off construct. At least legalization in one fell swoop. 

Despite his initial campaign position stating that our ‘current marijuana laws are not working’ and that as a nation we would need to seek decriminalization and expungement for cannabis related cases, President Joe Biden has recently stated that he isn’t in favor of legalization of adult-use cannabis at the federal level. 

Meaning that while we may not see the magic wand waved over cannabis legalization any time soon, these incremental steps could act as significant precedents in the furthering of the cause. 

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Chicana journalist, editor, educator, and organizer in Sacramento whose sole focus is to shed light on stories on our most impacted and marginalized communities, but even more importantly, for those stories to humanize those normally left out. She is an Ida B Wells Investigative Journalism Fellow 2022 Finalist, a member of the Parenting Journalists Society, and has bylines in The Courier, The Sacramento Bee, The Americano, Submerge Magazine among others.

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