Congress considers opening banking options for marijuana businesses
Big news out of Washington, D.C. today for the recreational marijuana industry, as Congress is mulling over a bill that would allow banks to work with legal pot businesses.
Banking has been a huge challenge for the fledgling industry. So far, most recreational marijuana retailers and growers in Washington have been denied access to the banking system, as bank owners fear the federal government could swoop in and shut them down.
The situation has left most pot shops with no option but to accept cash only from customers, posing some serious concerns about safety. But that could change soon, as the bill offers protection from any prosecution or penalization for banks working with licensed marijuana businesses.
Keep an eye on Cannabis Chronicles for updates as this interesting situation develops. For more details, check out the press release from Sen. Patty Murray’s office below.
– Justin Runquist
Sen. Murray Cosponsors Bill to Provide Access to Banking Services for Legal Marijuana Businesses
Bill would protect banks working with legal marijuana businesses from federal prosecution
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, a bipartisan group of Senators – Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO), Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) introduced the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2015, legislation to ensure that legal marijuana businesses can access banking services.
“Small, legal businesses should not be turned away from banking services because of fear of unjustified federal prosecution, and this legislation will ensure that they have access to the same services as other small businesses and can continue to grow and succeed,” said Senator Murray. “I am proud to be a voice for Washington state and support this legislation to provide much-needed clarity and security for our banks, credit unions, and businesses.”
Currently, marijuana businesses operating under state laws that have legalized medicinal or recreational marijuana have been mostly denied access to the banking system because banks that provide them services can be prosecuted under federal law. Without the ability to access bank accounts, accept credit cards, or write checks, businesses must operate using large amounts of cash. This creates safety risks for businesses and surrounding communities, and makes it more difficult for local and state governments to collect taxes.
The bill would prevent federal banking regulators from:
· Prohibiting, penalizing or discouraging a bank from providing financial services to a state-sanctioned and regulated marijuana business;
· Terminating or limiting a bank’s federal deposit insurance solely because the bank is providing services to a state-sanctioned marijuana business;
· Recommending or incentivizing a bank to halt or downgrade providing any kind of banking services to these businesses; or
· Taking any action on a loan to an owner or operator of a marijuana-related business.
The bill also creates a safe harbor from criminal prosecution and liability and asset forfeiture for banks and their officers and employees who provide financial services to state-sanctioned marijuana businesses, while maintaining banks’ right to choose not to offer those services. The bill would require banks to comply with current Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) guidance, while at the same time allowing FinCEN guidance to be streamlined over time as states and the federal government adapt to legalized medicinal and recreational marijuana policies.