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."
For medical marijuana dispensary owners and the patients who rely on them for access to their medicine, Colorado Congressman Ed Perlmutter’s (D) bill is common sense.
Perlmutter introduced legislation yesterday that would allow legal marijuana-related businesses to have access to traditional banking services. The Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act aims to accomplish this by updating federal banking laws to account for discrepancies with state laws: Currently, financial institutions are barred from working with any organization that sells a controlled substance, regardless of whether the state it resides in permits marijuana sales. Banks that violate this law risk losing their deposit insurance or their federal charter. If the bill is enacted, medical marijuana dispensaries – and the businesses getting ready to open for recreational marijuana sales in Colorado and Washington – will finally have access to bank accounts, credit cards, and loans.
Under the current system, medical marijuana dispensaries are forced to operate on a cash-only basis. For many businesses, this means storing hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal safes, carrying sacks full of hundreds to the state Department of Revenue in order to pay taxes, and looking for unusual sources of start-up revenue. For some businesses, the added burdens have forced them to close shop.
Jamie Lewis, a board member of the National Cannabis Industry Association and owner of two Denver-based medical marijuana companies, said, “Each year, my companies contribute to the five million dollars in tax revenue Colorado collects from the sales of medical marijuana. Making those tax payments is unnecessarily challenging because we do not have access to banking services other local businesses take for granted. Regulators, business owners, and medical marijuana patients alike all deserve the accountability, safety, and efficiency offered by this legislation.”
The bill has been backed by a bipartisan group of 16 Republicans and Democrats, including co-sponsors Jared Polis of Colorado and Denny Heck of Washington.