Marijuana Banking Bill Introduced in Senate

A bipartisan group of senators on Tuesday introduced legislation that would make it easier for credit unions and banks to provide financial services to marijuana-related businesses.

Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Steve Daines (R-Mt.) and 27 cosponsors introduced the bill. The same bill was introduced last week in the House.

The bill, which the Credit Union National Association has endorsed, would provide banks and credit unions a safe harbor from regulatory sanctions for conducting business with cannabis-related companies. The financial institutions still would be required to follow all anti-money laundering and Bank Secrecy Act rules, including the filing of Suspicious Activity Reports, when warranted.

The House and Senate bills also would prohibit financial institutions from refusing to do business solely based on reputational risk. That should make the bill more attractive to Republicans who said that under the Obama Administration’s “Operation Choke Point,” financial institutions chose not to do business gun manufacturers and dealers.

Supporters of the marijuana banking bill have said that because many financial institutions have been unwilling to provide services to marijuana-related companies, those firms have had to conduct business in cash. That is an open invitation to robbery and money laundering, Merkley said

“No one working in a store or behind a register should have to worry about experiencing a traumatic robbery at any moment,” said Merkley.

“Montana businesses shouldn’t have to operate in all cash—they should have a safe way to conduct business,” Daines said. 

The House passed marijuana banking legislation during the last Congress, but the Senate never considered it. This year, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has said that he wants to combine the legislation with comprehensive sentencing legislation, which could complicate passage.

Nonetheless, one marijuana business advocate said he is optimistic. “With new Senate leadership now firmly in favor of cannabis policy reform, we are optimistic that this narrowly tailored – but absolutely necessary – legislation will be allowed to progress through the hearing process without delay,” said Aaron Smith, co-founder, and chief executive officer of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA). “This bill is a meaningful first step that will have immediate benefits in terms of safety, transparency, fairness, and much-needed economic opportunities while Congress continues working toward more comprehensive solutions to end prohibition and sensibly regulate cannabis.”

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