Senate Could Vote to Allow Marijuana Banking This Week

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The U.S. Senate could soon vote to finally allow banks to do business with marijuana providers without fear of criminal prosecution.

Due to current federal money laundering and drug laws, most financial services providers are reluctant to take on cannabis businesses as clients, even those that operate legally under state law. As a result, many marijuana dispensaries are forced to operate on a cash-only basis, making them targets for robberies.

But an amendment introduced Wednesday by Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon could change that. He and a bipartisan group of six co-sponsors are pushing to attach the proposal to a broader bill aimed at bolstering addiction recovery services that the Senate is considering this week.

Specifically, the amendment would prevent federal officials from punishing banks that work with the marijuana industry through prosecutions, asset seizures or termination of their FDIC insurance, which are very real threats under current law.

Signing on with Merkley are Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Patty Murray of Washington, all Democrats. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a Republican, is also on board.

The text of the amendment is similar to standalone bills in the House and Senate that would ease banking access for marijuana businesses. The standalone Senate proposal is co-sponsored by the same group signed on to the new amendment, along with four others including independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and two other Republicans. The House legislation currently has 33 co-sponsors.

Last July, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved by a vote of 16-14 an amendment to the Department of the Treasury’s spending bill that would have prohibited the department from punishing financial institutions that work with marijuana businesses. The language did not make it into the final Fiscal Year 2016 omnibus spending bill signed into law by the president, however. In July 2014, the House of Representatives voted 231-192 for a similar amendment, but that too was excluded from that year’s final spending package.

It is unclear whether the new amendment will be brought forward to a vote on the Senate floor under the body’s arcane rules for germaneness, and will likely come down to whether Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky chooses to give it floor time over other amendments that have been submitted. As of Thursday, there were 91 pending amendments to the bill.

In 2014, the Obama administration released guidance intended to make it easier for banks to do business with cannabis sellers, but many financial industry leaders have remained 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 largely going to stay away.

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.)

6 Comments

  1. It is completely idiotic and counterproductive to try to create exceptions in all the federal laws which make the commerce in cannabis felonious — instead, we should reform the federal Controlled Substances Act and de-schedule cannabis. If cannabis ceases to be federal contraband, the commerce in it will become legal.

  2. R.j. Barcellona on

    I’m in Illinois, so is Gov. Rauner ( who is basically against the mj program ) in
    Springfield telling the Dispensary & Cultivation owners who brought in $1.5 Mil for Feb sales saying, ” you get that tainted money out of here… you do your dirty laundry somewhere else…I dont want any part of that!” ? Huh?

  3. This would have passed earlier if they would have agreed to accept cash in duffle bags in quantities sufficient to weigh like the criminal banks are apparently used to doing. (and you keep your cash there??) Here in Washington state their excuse was that they didn’t like the cannabis smell on all that cash. So they must have preferred the odor of cocaine, would be my guess…

  4. How offensive is it when the federal government denies states that have legalized access to a “private” banking system that was bailed out with “public” tax money… 3 times?? Even though the people & congress voted against it??
    Stop tolerating this behavior from your congress and replace every single House of Rep seat this Nov 8 2016. 100% – all 435 House of Rep seats are up for election. Replace all of them with only cannabis supporters, and it’s legalized in 2017!!
    Free A Seed today!

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