An amendment attached to a federal finance bill that would have provided the legal marijuana industry with banking protections was stifled on Thursday, June 21, by a U.S. Senate committee. The measure, introduced by Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, would have shielded financial institutions and banks that open accounts for state-legal pot businesses from federal prosecution.
Thanks to marijuana's federally illegal status, virtually every business working directly with the plant can't access banking services because the institutions providing those services are concerned about possible federal prosecution. This obstacle has made the marijuana industry nearly an all-cash business. Merkley's amendment, attached to the Fiscal Year 2019 Financial Services Bill, aimed to protect those banks from any punishment by the Department of the Treasury, but it was defeated by the Senate Appropriations Committee, 21-10.
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With a similar amendment to protect marijuana banking getting killed in the House Appropriations Committee on June 13, opponents of legalization were quick to celebrate. "Last week, public health notched a decisive win against Big Marijuana when the House Appropriations Committee voted down the Joyce amendment," Kevin Sabet, founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said in a statement released on June 21. "Today, public health scored another victory. Marijuana industry players have been bragging about working with powerhouse lobbying firms such as Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, and Schreck to grease the wheels on measures such as this."
Merkley wrote the bill to help stave off any potential crime surrounding an all-cash industry, according to Forbes. "We're really facilitating crime by not enabling the banking industry to provide basic services," he said before the committee voted.
Critics of the Senate amendment who had supported previous federal marijuana protections said they'd hoped the amendment would also protect banks from the Department of Justice, which controls the Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal law enforcement agencies and is currently headed by Attorney General and anti-pot zealot Jeff Sessions.
Not only do dispensaries and other licensed businesses have limited access to banking services, but marijuana businesses are barred from filing for tax deductions because of the plant's status with Uncle Sam. Until Congress can figure out a way to provide federal protections for banks that serve marijuana businesses, the pot industry (and some ancillary industries working with it) will continue to operate with a lot of attention but little financial stability.