Although recreational marijuana continues to be made legal in more states across the nation, most businesses associated with this emerging industry are forced to operate on a cash-only basis because banks are frightened of the penalties that could come crashing down on them from Uncle Sam.
However, a group of bipartisan lawmakers are on a mission to make banking options more accessible to the cannabis industry, recently submitting a bill aimed at preventing the federal government from interfering in dealings between financial institutions and marijuana-related companies.
On Thursday, Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden—the key players behind the Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act of 2015—introduced the first Senate effort designed to eliminate the possibility of financial institutions being prosecuted by the federal government for working with businesses that cultivate and sell marijuana.
“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,” Merkley said in a statement. “That must end.”
“The people of Oregon have spoken, and the federal government should make sure that legal marijuana businesses can operate properly within our banking system,” he continued. “It’s time to let banks serve these legal businesses without fearing devastating reprisals from the federal government.”
The Justice Department and the U.S. Treasury released guidelines in 2014 to assist financial institutions interested in working with the cannabis industry. This has led to smaller banks gouging marijuana-related businesses in an effort to offset the risk, while larger corporations continue to avoid these dealings altogether until a solid law in on the books.
The trick will be getting Congress to support the bill, which is a long shot considering the snags that typically arise in regard to pot legislation. Yet, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, who is a supporter of the banking bill, believes that Congress will be forced to make some serious changes in the near future because states are going to continue legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes.
“Now, does it have a chance? I think there’s a lot of work that has to be done to give it that chance, but I also think that in 10 years most every other state in the country is going to be facing this question,” Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado told Politico. “People are coming on board and people are starting to realize we have a policy that’s kind of out of step.”