Business

Bipartisan Marijuana Banking Bill Introduced in Senate — Finally!

Regulated marijuana has more than a few obstacles on the path to legitimacy, but at least federal lawmakers are addressing one of its biggest: banking. Introduced by Oregon senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, Senate Bill 1726 — better known as the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2015 — would "create protections" for financial institutions that provide services to legal marijuana-related businesses. The bill, co-sponsored by Colorado senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, was introduced on July 9 to the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, and awaits consideration.

“Forcing businessmen and businesswomen who are operating legally under Oregon state law to shuttle around gym bags full of cash is an invitation to crime and malfeasance. That must end,” Merkley said after introducing the bill.

A barrier that scares investors but attracts audits, the cash-only status of the cannabis industry has stunted growth and added a level of chicanery to a trade that already has plenty of prestige issues to deal with. As we've reported dozens of times in previous articles, banks across the country are currently scared to touch pot businesses out of fear of drug charges being brought by the Drug Enforcement Administration or the Department of Justice, despite the latter and President Barack Obama providing provisional guidelines that suggest thatprosecutors avoid doing so. 

“Ever since Colorado voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana, conflicting federal and state marijuana laws have required banks to refuse basic financial services to marijuana-related businesses in Colorado. In turn, this has forced the industry to adopt an all-cash business model that fosters violent crime and puts all Coloradans at risk,” Gardner says in a press release. “This common-sense legislation solves a major public-safety problem in my state by giving legitimate businesses acting in compliance with state laws access to the banking system.”


Among other protective stipulations, the bill would ban federal regulators from taking action on loans to pot businesses or prohibiting or discouraging banks from providing financial services to the marijuana industry. It would also protect banks from criminal prosecution and asset forfeiture for working with state-sanctioned marijuana businesses. 

Not be confused with the very similar and identically named Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act of 2015— H.R. 2076, which was introduced in May and has a 0 percent chance of passing, according to govtrack.us — S.B. 1726 is co-sponsored by Democratic senators Ron Wyden and Patty Murray, from Oregon and Washington, respectively, both states with adult-use marijuana laws. Presidential hopeful Rand Paul, the Republican senator from Kentucky who made a closed-door appearance for campaign donations at Denver's Cannabis Business Summit earlier in July, also co-sponsored the bill.

S.B. 1726 had not yet been published on the Congress.gov website. Govtrack.us, which has tracked bills and voting records in Washington, D.C., for over ten years, currently gives it a 13 percent chance of getting past committee and a 6 percent chance of being enacted.

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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.
Contact: Thomas Mitchell