Federal bill would let marijuana businesses bank

Washington, D.C. Bureau

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — With more and more states allowing legal marijuana, pressure is mounting on federal lawmakers to ease banking regulations that ban dealing in cannabis cash.

“What makes the current situation intolerable and untenable is the disconnect between federal and state law,” Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo, said during a Tuesday committee hearing on Capitol Hill.

He says federal prohibition of marijuana remains the biggest obstacle for his state’s booming multimillion-dollar recreational marijuana industry.

“All the different parts of our economy that connect to any legitimate business — plumbers, electricians, lawyers, accountants landlords, etc. — risk becoming federal criminals,” he said.

Under federal law, financial transactions linked back to marijuana are illegal and can be considered money laundering. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said that forces many marijuana businesses to operate solely in cash.

“It’s good for organized crime and it’s good for robbery and it’s good for cheating on your taxes,” he listed, “but it’s bad for citizens. Let’s correct this problem.”

A proposed bill would allow banks to offer credit cards, saving accounts and other financial services to legal marijuana businesses.

But Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an antilegalization group, argues the rule change would be a mistake, fueling marijuana use and the opioid epidemic.

“Make no mistake, a policy change around banking would have massive public health ramifications,” SAM Vice President Garth Van Meter said.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the issue can’t be ignored, but he wants to find a common sense solution to help workers in the marijuana industry succeed without obstacles.

“We’ve got to find a way to solve this,” he said. “At the same time, I don’t think people should be going to prison.”

He said the committee considering the matter is still undecided and that discussions will continue.

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