The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a measure Thursday (16-14) that is intended to ensure marijuana businesses have access to banking services.
The amendment, offered by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) to the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill, would prohibit the Treasury Department and its enforcement arm, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network or FinCEN, from using federal funds to punish banks that provide financial services to marijuana businesses that are operating legally under state laws.
Many banks are currently unwilling to provide depository and other basic banking services to marijuana businesses because the substance is still illegal under federal law. Federal, state, and local law enforcement and other government officials say marijuana businesses need to have access to banking because operating entirely in cash raises significant public safety concerns.
The House is unlikely to consider its own Financial Services bill, so it is unclear whether the amendment will be included in any final compromise legislation that is sent to the president.
Earlier this month, Sen. Merkley introduced the Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act, which would amend federal banking laws to prevent banks from being punished for providing services to state-legal marijuana businesses. The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Rand Paul (R-KY), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Patty Murray (D-WA).
Statement from Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project:
"Marijuana businesses in Colorado alone are on pace for nearly $1 billion dollars in revenue this year. Forcing these companies to store that much cash anywhere other than inside banks raises significant public safety concerns. Current federal laws are putting a bullseye on businesses that are operating legally under state laws, as well as their employees and customers. It's almost as if some federal officials want to see marijuana businesses get robbed.
"Forcing these businesses to deal exclusively in cash makes it more challenging for states to collect taxes, monitor transactions, and enforce some regulations. Allowing these businesses to access basic banking services is a critical step toward letting states regulate marijuana as effectively and responsibly as possible. A strong majority of Americans think the federal government should stop interfering in state marijuana laws. It appears many, if not most, of the top 2016 presidential candidates agree."
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The Marijuana Policy Project, the nation's largest marijuana policy organization, has been responsible for changing most state-level marijuana laws since 2000. For more information, visit http://www.MarijuanaPolicy.org.