The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) approved a resolution Monday urging that the Controlled Substances Act should be amended to remove marijuana from scheduling in order to give federally approved banks the ability to work with marijuana businesses. This would also allow states to determine their own marijuana policies without the threat of federal interference. For a resolution to pass, it must be supported by a majority of participating legislators in each of 75% of the states represented at the conference’s general business meeting.
Due to the Schedule I status of marijuana under federal law, federally insured banks risk penalties if they offer financial services to marijuana-related businesses. For that reason, many of these businesses are forced to operate on a cash-only basis, making them a target for criminals. While limited guidance has been issued, which intended to encourage financial institutions to serve marijuana businesses, access to banking remains a problem.
The full resolution can be found here.
MPP's Karen O'Keefe said the following statement in a press release:
“State legislators and the vast majority of voters agree that marijuana policy should be left to the states,” said Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, which tracks marijuana policy in all 50 states and lobbies in state legislatures throughout the country.
“Legitimate, taxpaying marijuana businesses should not have to face the difficulties of operating on a cash-only basis. Allowing banks to offer them financial services will be good for the industry and benefit public safety,” O’Keefe continues. “Even more so, states should not have to worry about the federal government interfering with their marijuana policy choices.”
PNC Bank notified MPP that it would be closing our accounts on July 7. The bank cited federal prohibition and the fact that some of our donors are involved in legal, regulated marijuana businesses as the reason for closing the accounts.
CNN Money reports:
The organization does not deal directly with the sale or distribution of marijuana, Tvert said. But the 22-year-old lobby group does receive money from state-legal marijuana businesses that pay taxes.
Marijuana remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government, though medical marijuana is legal in 29 states and recreational pot is legal in eight states and the District of Columbia. Banks are supposed to adhere to federal law, so many of them shun state-legal marijuana businesses, forcing some of those businesses to deal in cash.
[MPP's Mason] Tvert said he wonders why a bank would have a problem dealing with an organization that receives money from marijuana businesses when those businesses pay taxes.
"We receive contributions from state regulated marijuana businesses ... that are paying taxes," he said. "Yet we don't see anyone shutting down the federal government's bank account or state or local governments' bank accounts. We have moved so far toward legitimizing this industry yet we are still seeing these kinds of ridiculous situations that need to be addressed."
MPP has secured alternative banking options and will be moving forward with our efforts to end marijuana prohibition.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed four pieces of cannabis-related legislation this year, including two on Monday. One of the bills signed this week, HB 4094, will ensure that financial institutions that serve both medical and nonmedical cannabis businesses will not be subject to state criminal laws. The other, SB 1524, makes it easier for veterans who receive services from the VA health system to renew medical marijuana registrations.
Her signatures follow last week’s signature on SB 1511, the second of two broad cannabis bills passed this year. That bill includes provisions that will allow businesses serving adult consumers to provide medical marijuana products. It also allows medical marijuana dispensaries to sell concentrates to adult consumers.
The other broad marijuana bill, HB 4014, allows out-of-state investors for marijuana-related businesses along with other changes, and was signed on March 3.
With these signatures, attention can now turn more fully to the roll-out of licenses for businesses that will serve the adult consumer market. Many of the changes that came from legislation this year will make it easier for that transition to take place, including provisions that help established medical marijuana businesses enter into the adult retail market.
Earlier today, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill in the Senate that would banks to do business with the marijuana industry in states where it is legal for medical purposes or adult use.
Introduced by the Senate delegations from Oregon and Colorado, two of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, the bill would prohibit the federal government from penalizing banks that work with marijuana businesses.
Though four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana, the drug is still illegal under federal law. That makes it difficult for businesses operating in those legalized states to access financial services through the banking industry. Instead, those companies have to run all-cash operations that the senators say invite crime.
The entire legal landscape that legal marijuana currently faces is “insane,” said GOP Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado in an interview.
According to a press release from Drug Policy Alliance, "Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and Denny Heck (D-WA) introduced the House version of this Senate bill earlier in the year, having also introduced a banking bill the previous session."
The following guest post, contributed by MedMen, is part of a series providing insights into the legal marijuana industry.
As the “wall” of prohibition begins to crumble, businesspeople are lining up to cross over into the world of legal marijuana. They would be wise to remember that one of the only reasons they are able to even peek over that wall is because they are standing on the shoulders of giants: giants who invested blood, sweat, and tears into grassroots activism, lobbying, and ballot initiatives; giants who risked (and in some cases served) prison terms in pursuit of helping seriously ill patients; giants who helped bring down that wall despite having little to gain on the other side.
Many of the entrepreneurs and investors coming into the industry have their sights set high and rightfully so. This is a unique moment in history, in which a widely demanded product is in the process of transitioning from an illegal marketplace to a legal one. There is nothing wrong with being business-minded, and it is this transition from basements to boardrooms that will make the dream of legal marijuana a reality (and become one in those states that have yet to end prohibition). The industry must remain compliant and sustainable if it is to ever get a federal green light.
But they must keep in mind that it’s not all just about dollars and cents. It’s about laws that make sense, and passing them is not always easy.
The industry outlook is favorable today only because of the advocates who came before. In order to keep that outlook positive and to improve on its current position, industry leaders must commit to supporting advocacy efforts. Just as quickly as states approved laws making marijuana legal for adult and/or medical use, they could repeal them. And just as quickly as federal directives opened the door to state programs, banking, and the like, those orders can be rescinded if the next administration sees fit.
Only by continuing to support advocacy can members of the marijuana industry ensure that they will not find themselves on the list of those jailed due to outdated (or newly reinstated) prohibition laws.
Often, industry leaders lack the time, resources, or expertise necessary to effect change. Luckily, there are organizations dedicated to advocating for sensible marijuana policy at both the state and federal levels. By contributing money and other resources to these groups, industry leaders can keep the policy ball rolling forward — and ensure it doesn’t get rolled back.
Money everywhere is tight, but keep in mind it is these groups that are changing minds and changing laws. They are the ones ending marijuana prohibition and replacing it with new, legal markets. Today’s advocacy investments will pay dividends down the line for businesses and for society.
Learn more about MedMen at http://www.MedMen.com.
Colorado lawmakers moved the marijuana industry away from its cash-only roots on Wednesday when they approved the world’s first financial system for marijuana businesses. The plan sets up a network of uninsured cooperatives, which gives the industry an avenue to basic banking services.
Even in light of Eric Holder’s comments on banking, marijuana businesses have still had a hard time finding banks to even let them open checking accounts, for fear of committing a federal crime. According to an AP article by Kristen Wyatt, “Shop owners in the state say a small number of credit unions will do business with them, too, though no banks or credit unions have said so publicly.”
Colorado’s new plan for banking would let marijuana business pool money in cooperatives, which would let stores accept credit cards and checks. However, these co-ops would need U.S. Federal Reserve approval first.
The plan has bipartisan support, partially because it gives the state the ability to audit marijuana shops and make sure they are paying taxes. Even Gov. John Hickenlooper supports the plan, and has pledged to sign it into law once he receives the final language of the bill.
Establishing a co-op-based banking system for marijuana businesses reduces the risk of crime by moving large cash reserves out of stores and into banks. It makes the industry more accountable and establishes a system that other states can follow as they begin to tax and regulate marijuana.
On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced his intent to craft regulations that would allow banking services for legitimate marijuana businesses throughout the country. Banks and credit card companies have been wary of working with marijuana businesses for fear of federal prosecution and loss of licensing, causing serious issues with public safety and hampering the growth of the industry. Advocates are hopeful that this statement directly from Holder, proposing regulations instead of guidance memos, signals a growing tolerance of marijuana policy reform among the states.
MPP’s Dan Riffle discussed the issues facing marijuana businesses on Marketplace on NPR this morning.
Last week, MPP's Mason Tvert spoke with Andrew Sullivan at The Dish about several aspects of marijuana policy and where it is headed. In this segment, he discusses where the federal government stands on the implementation of marijuana regulations in Colorado and Washington, and how they will deal with marijuana businesses:
Last Friday, Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) sent a letter to the U.S. Treasury Department urging the Obama administration to address a problem affecting numerous medical marijuana providers in states like California and Colorado. Specifically, due to existing federal law, these providers are having difficulty establishing accounts with banking institutions. “Legitimate state-legal businesses are being denied access to banking services, which does not serve the public interest,” the letter stated.
The Marijuana Policy Project recognized this growing problem and worked diligently behind the scenes with Rep. Polis's office to devise an effective lobbying strategy. The letter issued on Friday and signed by 15 members of Congress, including House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA), House Appropriations Financial Services Subcommittee Chairman Jose Serrano (D-NY), was a result of those efforts.
With medical marijuana providers now operating in numerous states, this issue must be resolved. These are taxpaying entities and they must have access to secure and reliable banking institutions in order to operate efficiently and properly. We are proud of our role in helping to resolve this issue and we thank Congressman Polis and other stalwart supporters in Congress for their incredible and lasting commitment to protecting medical marijuana patients and their caregivers.