Medical marijuana industry insiders looking toward Congress for relief with their banking needs won't find any help from their representative if they reside within Oklahoma's 2nd Congressional District.
U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, who wrapped up the Easter recess with a public stop Friday in Muskogee, said he has "a big issue with the way the state has elected to make marijuana legal." The Westville Republican said he opposes a bipartisan bill passed in March out of the House Financial Services Committee by a 45-15 vote that would protect banks that provide financial services to cannabis businesses from being punished by federal regulators.
Because cannabis remains classified as a Schedule I drug by the federal government, providing financial services to cannabis businesses subjects federally insured banks to civil and criminal penalties. The result is a cash-only economy, which requires business owners to make steep investments in security or run the risk of becoming easy marks for would-be thieves.
Mullin said the government uses existing banking laws to prosecute drug cartels and organized crime syndicates for tax evasion and money laundering. If those laws were relaxed for states where cannabis is legal for either medical or recreational use, he said, criminals also would take advantage.
"It actually turns my stomach that we are allowing this to happen when we know it is a Class I federal drug," Mullin said.
"Everybody knows it's only being used for medical purposes," he sarcastically, "and it's a joke."
The congressman's comments came in response to a question posed by Patrick Cale, a Muskogee businessman, ward representative and Oklahoma Cannabis Industry Association board member. OCIA bills itself as "the chamber of commerce for the state's cannabis industry" and an advocacy group that is striving "to establish an innovative, industry-leading cannabis industry in Oklahoma."
Cale asked about the potential of "any bipartisan legislation coming down" from Congress "to help with the banking laws" in light of the cannabis industry's growth across the nation. Mullin said he didn't "know how that was even possible," citing the inability of states to sell liquor after enactment of the 18th Amendment and Volstead Act.
"To be honest with you, it would probably pass the House — just about every Democrat would vote for it and probably 30 to 60 Republicans would vote for it," Mullin said. "I don't know what the Senate would do — I heard the Senate probably wouldn’t pass it, but the president said if they did he might be open to it."
Mullin, however, said he never would "vote to legalize marijuana in any way, shape or form." If by "the will of the people" legal marijuana ever became "the law of the land," Mullin said he would "go to work on the legislation that is needed, but it (legalization) won't pass with my vote."