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Merkley, Wyden and Blumenauer Call on Congress to Pass Legislation Allowing Legal Marijuana Businesses to Access Banking Services

Marijuana retail outlet near Denver.

Marijuana retail outlet near Denver.

Oregon’s Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden and Congressman Earl Blumenauer were on hand today at Rivermark Community Credit Union to call on Congress to pass legislation sponsored by all three elected officials that would ensure legal marijuana businesses can access banking services.

Currently, marijuana businesses operating under state laws that have legalized medicinal or adult-use marijuana have been mostly denied access to the banking system because financial institutions that provide them services can be prosecuted under federal law. Without the ability to access bank accounts, accept credit cards, or write checks, businesses must operate using large amounts of cash.

“There’s a reason most of us don’t walk around with thousands of dollars of cash stuffed in our backpacks. It’s an invitation to crime and malfeasance,” said Senator Merkley. “But that’s what we are forcing legal Oregon businesses to do because financial institutions are prohibited from providing services. That must change.”

“I support the will of the people of Oregon, and they have spoken clearly to legalize marijuana,” said Senator Wyden. “Federal banking laws must respect Oregonians’ voice with updated regulations so upstanding owners of small businesses that are legal in our state aren’t relegated into acting like thieves in the night skulking around with sacks full of cash”

“There is absolutely no justification for forcing thousands of legal marijuana business here in Oregon and across the United States to do their business on an all cash basis,” said Representative Blumenauer. “Not only does this stifle the ability of people to actually grow their businesses, this is a serious public safety issue that will only continue as more states reform their laws.”

Earlier this summer, Oregon’s Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden partnered with Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Patty Murray (D-WA) to introduce the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act. Congressman Blumenauer has sponsored similar legislation in the House.

The bill would prevent federal banking regulators from:

* Prohibiting, penalizing or discouraging a bank from providing financial services to a legitimate state-sanctioned and regulated marijuana business;
* Terminating or limiting a bank’s federal deposit insurance solely because the financial institution is providing services to a state-sanctioned marijuana business;
* Recommending or incentivizing a financial institution to halt or downgrade providing any kind of banking services to these businesses; or
* Taking any action on a loan to an owner or operator of a marijuana-related business.

The bill also creates a safe harbor from criminal prosecution and liability and asset forfeiture for financial institutions and their officers and employees who provide financial services to legitimate, state-sanctioned marijuana businesses, while maintaining financial institutions’ right to choose not to offer those services.

Scott Burgess, CEO of Rivermark Community Credit Union, said, “From a credit union perspective, there are a lot of various factors that need to be considered when determining if we provide services to any business. At Rivermark, we don’t presently serve marijuana-related businesses, but any decision to do otherwise isn’t even a consideration unless we can resolve the conflict between state and federal law.”

The bill would require financial institutions to comply with current Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) guidance, while at the same time allowing FinCEN guidance to be streamlined over time as states and the federal government adapt to legalized medicinal and adult-use marijuana policies.

The Senate Appropriations Committee also recently passed Senator Merkley’s amendment that would prevent federal banking regulators from prohibiting, penalizing or discouraging financial institutions from providing financial services to a legitimate state-sanctioned and regulated marijuana business. This is the first vote in Senate history that applies to both medicinal and adult-use marijuana.

 

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