By Rev. Charles F. Boyer, pastor, and Rev. DeForest Soaries.
Scripture says faith without works is dead. To this end, neither our works nor our faithfulness should be limited to the pews. We must practice works of faith every day in our communities.
As faith leaders in New Jersey communities, our congregants worship in different ways and have different perspectives on many issues. But we are united in our belief that practicing our faith means supporting and strengthening the struggle for social justice. Each of us strongly supports solutions that end the social and economic disparities faced by communities of color and reduce violence on our streets.
This path has led us to become advocates for cannabis reform to ensure that all communities can safely benefit from this burgeoning industry. It’s also why we’ve joined 3 other New Jersey faith leaders in calling on Congress to pass the Secure and Fair Enforcement (“SAFE”) Banking Act, a bill that would lift the federal ban that prohibits financial institutions to service cannabis businesses and has made entering the cannabis business a risky, unstable, and dangerous prospect for most workers in New Jersey and the country.
Religious leaders and cannabis entrepreneurs may seem like unlikely bedfellows. But the truth is that those most affected by the federal ban on cannabis banks are the communities that have also borne the brunt of the country’s cruel and racial drug war. Until Congress passes the SAFE Banking Act, New Jersey won’t be able to deliver on its promise to make amends with cannabis legalization after disproportionately targeting Black and Latino communities for cannabis-related offenses through racial profiling and over-policing.
Currently, federal law prohibits financial institutions from providing banking services to legitimate, state-licensed cannabis businesses. This deprives small-scale cannabis operators of essential financial tools to do business: from access to bank accounts or loans to the ability to host credit and debit card transactions, manage payroll and pay bills. taxes. Often, cannabis businesses are forced to operate as cash-only businesses, making them targets of violent crime and putting our communities at risk.
The consequences of banning cannabis banks disproportionately affect Black and Brown-owned businesses that have also historically faced discriminatory barriers to accessing capital to grow and prosper. The current federal cannabis law only perpetuates these economic inequalities. Although the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which oversees licensing, lists ‘fairness and safety’ as primary goals, black and Latino entrepreneurs face an ‘uphill’ struggle trying to break into the industry cannabis. Few black entrepreneurs have been able to access the capital needed to open and operate cannabis businesses.
Ultimately, without the SAFE Banking Act, New Jersey’s efforts to promote social equity will continue to stagnate. The fact that minority-owned cannabis companies cannot access capital under federal law will continue to encourage independent wealthy entities to enter the industry and undermine New Jersey’s best attempts to ensure that communities most affected by cannabis prohibition can profitably participate in the growing cannabis industry.
Ideally, we would like to see the SAFE Banking Act coupled with restorative justice policies to remove the myriad barriers created by the criminal justice system and improve opportunities for those harmed by the war on drugs. We recognize that the SAFE Banking Act addresses only a few pieces of the puzzle to repair five decades of damage caused by the War on Drugs.
But we also support switching to SAFE Banking alone, which would be a victory for social equity that alleviates economic disparities and violence in our communities.
We have seen how our communities have long grappled with the effects of the war on drugs – how cannabis has been used to perpetuate racist policies and practices that inflict oppression and suffering on so many of our worshippers. New Jersey took a step toward racial reckoning when Governor Murphy signed into law cannabis reform in 2021. While President Joe Biden could do more, the pardons he granted this month to Americans in simple possession federal marijuana are a move toward racial equity. Now is the time for Congress to end 2022 by doing its part and passing the SAFE Banking Act so that black and brown entrepreneurs see new doors open to start their cannabis businesses through access to capital and skills. banking services.
Our call for compassion compels the faithful to action. We call on all senators, who are elected to serve the interests of their constituents, to act as well.
Rev. Charles F. Boyer is pastor of Greater Mt Zion AME Church in Trenton, NJ, and Rev. DeForest Soaries is pastor emeritus of Lincoln Gardens First Baptist Church in Somerset, NJ.