Doug Robinson

Doug Robinson

The marijuana industry hasn’t let the COVID-19 pandemic distract it from its single-minded fixation on congressional approval of the so-called SAFE Banking Act. The proposal would spur billions of dollars of new investment in marijuana companies by granting them greater access to the banking system. It would also bring the marijuana industry a step closer to its ultimate goal: full-scale national marijuana legalization.

Last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the marijuana industry spent $5.7 million lobbying Congress, and it’s maintaining an intensive full-court press in Washington this year. 

On May 15, the House of Representatives narrowly passed a $3 trillion stimulus bill that included the SAFE Banking Act. Missing from the House legislation, however, were any provisions to protect children whose health and futures are threatened by mass marijuana commercialization.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo, a Republican from Idaho, has said he’s uncomfortable moving the SAFE Banking Act forward without protections for youth, such as limits on marijuana marketing and potency, as well as other legal safeguards. 

It’s a simple concept: If you want to be treated like a legitimate industry, agree to act like one. But the industry has resisted Crapo’s proposed protections.

The experience of Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, demonstrates huge stakes for children, whose futures hang in the balance.

Colorado youth surveys show a significant increase in their access to and interest in marijuana. The most recent data show 10% of Colorado teens usually consume edible cannabis products, a dramatic increase from just 2% of teens two years prior. New ultra-potent pot products can easily hide nearly pure THC, marijuana's main mood-altering chemical, in child-friendly offerings such as edibles with sweet flavors.

Trying to capitalize on the COVID-19 crisis, the marijuana industry has argued that moving from a cash-based business will reduce the risk of infection from paper bills.

But in Colorado, the marijuana industry already has access to debit cards. Not only did the Colorado government declare recreational (not just medical) marijuana businesses “essential” during the pandemic, but it also urged marijuana stores to only accept electronic payments during the stay-at-home order. So what’s the problem that needs to be solved? 

The deadly vaping crisis taught us what can happen when companies that make products that are dangerous to children prioritize revenue growth to satisfy investors. In short, children become collateral damage. 

A growing body of research shows that marijuana can harm developing brains, yet it’s increasingly described as a cure-all for a range of conditions with little recognition of the distinct chemicals in the marijuana plant. Mass marketing and widespread public use normalizes marijuana to youth who have grown up in this era of commercialization. 

Our nonprofit organization doesn’t take a position on whether marijuana should be legalized for adults, but we should all be able to agree that it’s harmful to children, and we should all do everything in our power to limit youth use. 

After all, children have just one chance to grow up. Congress should make sure it puts children first, before marijuana industry profits.

Doug Robinson is chairman of Smart Colorado, a nonprofit organization focused on protecting the health, safety and well-being of the youth as marijuana becomes increasingly available and commercialized.

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