Marijuana Banking Advocates Try New Argument — Cash is Unhealthy

As Congress decides whether to include marijuana banking provisions in the next coronavirus relief measure, advocates are raising a new issue: Cash is dirty and can spread the coronavirus.

Supporters of legislation to allow financial institutions to do business with cannabis-related businesses in states where marijuana is legal long have argued that since their businesses are all-cash, it creates a public safety risk that makes them easy prey for criminals looking for quick cash.

Now, they say that because they cannot rely on such payment processes as credit cards, the lack of legislation has become a major health issue. The coronavirus can live on a dollar bill for as long as 17 days, they said.

“The lack of access to financial institutions places industry workers, government employees, and the public at-large at risk as banknotes circulate from consumers and patients to businesses and government,” marijuana banking advocates, including the Safe and Responsible Banking Alliance, wrote in a letter to congressional leaders last week.

That is a phony argument, according to Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a group opposed to the legislation. “Granting this industry access to banks will bring billions of dollars of institutional investment from the titans of addiction and vastly expand the harms we are already witnessing from marijuana commercialization and its highly potent products,” he said this week.

CUNA and the American Bankers Association support marijuana banking; NAFCU has not taken a position on the issue.

House Democrats earlier this week unveiled their 1,800-page, $3 trillion bill, which represents their next attempt to help the country recover from the pandemic. That bill includes provisions that would allow financial institutions to do business with marijuana businesses without fear of sanctions from regulators.

Because marijuana is illegal under federal law, financial regulators may sanction institutions for doing business with those firms.

Republican leaders have made it clear that the House bill will not become law, but it may represent the first salvo in negotiations over the next recovery measure. The House is scheduled to consider the bill on Friday.

Marijuana banking legislation has passed the House, but it remains tied up in the Senate Banking Committee, where Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Id.) has expressed serious reservations about the bill.

The bill presents a political dilemma for Republicans, many of whom oppose the measure. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) is considered one of the most endangered GOP senators as he runs for reelection. Cannabis is legal in Colorado and some political analysts say the cannabis legislation could be one of the keys to his reelection.

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