Congress Considers Banking Access for Marijuana Businesses

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The latest in a series of Congressional bills intended to scale back the federal war on marijuana would make it easier for state-legal cannabis businesses to access banking services.

The Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act of 2015, introduced by 18 Democrats and one Republican, would protect banks from criminal penalties and asset forfeiture proceedings that they currently risk under federal law when doing business with entities in the marijuana industry.

Last year, the Obama administration released guidance intended to make it easier for banks to do business with cannabis sellers, but many financial industry leaders remain wary. They say that until federal law actually changes — as opposed to relying on nonbinding memos that could be changed by this or future administrations — they’re going to stay away.

That means that many state-legal marijuana businesses are forced to operate on a cash-only basis, putting them at great risk of being robbed.

The new legislation, sponsored by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), would likely give bankers the clarity and comfort they need to begin working the the marijuana industry in a bigger way.

“Forcing business to operate in all cash is a serious risk for our communities,” Perlmutter and bill co-sponsor Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA) write in a Dear Colleague letter seeking support from other members of Congress. “This is simply an issue of public safety.”

The bill also prevents federal regulators from terminating deposit insurance on the basis of a bank working with marijuana businesses.

“The legislation removes current legal uncertainty by providing a ‘safe harbor’ and additional civil protections for depository institutions” that work with the marijuana industry, Perlmutter and Heck said. “Allowing tightly regulated marijuana business the ability to access the banking system significantly reduces the public safety threat.”

The banking proposal is one of more than a dozen separate pieces of marijuana reform legislation that are now pending in Congress. Earlier this month, for example, a bipartisan group of House and Senate members introduced bills intended to bring tax fairness to the legal cannabis industry.

About Author

Tom Angell covers policy and politics for Marijuana.com. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit organization Marijuana Majority, which works to ensure that elected officials and the media treat legalization as a serious, mainstream issue. Marijuana Majority led the effort to get the U.S. Conference of Mayors to pass a resolution telling the federal government to respect state marijuana laws, and orchestrated the first-ever endorsement for marijuana legalization by a U.S. Supreme Court justice (John Paul Stevens). Previously, Tom worked for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (All organizations are listed for identification purposes only.)

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