Appropriations Committee Passes Merkley-Murray Amendment to Provide Access to Banking Services for Legal Marijuana Businesses

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill, which included an amendment from Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and Washington Senator Patty Murray to ensure that legal marijuana businesses can access banking services.

Currently, marijuana businesses operating under state laws that have legalized medicinal or recreational marijuana have had a hard time accessing the banking system because banks and credit unions that provide them services can be sanctioned or shut down under federal law. Without the ability to access bank accounts, accept credit cards, or write checks, businesses must operate using large amounts of cash. In Oregon alone, it is estimated that the marijuana market could bring in close to half a billion dollars during its first 14 months of legal sales. This creates safety risks for businesses and surrounding communities, and makes it more difficult for local and state governments to collect taxes.

“The federal government should not be forcing Oregon’s legal marijuana businesses to carry gym bags full of cash to pay their taxes, employees and bills,” said Senator Jeff Merkley. “This is an invitation to robberies, money laundering, and organized crime. We need to enable our banks to serve these legal businesses without fearing devastating reprisals from the federal government.”

“This amendment is really about providing clarity, stability, and security for our banks, credit unions, and small business owners who want to be able to operate in full daylight,” said Senator Patty Murray. “The people in my home state of Washington spoke in favor of marijuana legalization years ago, and as the voice for my state, I will continue to push to help legal businesses access banking services without the fear of prosecution.”

The amendment, passed as part of the Financial Services and General Government appropriations 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. The amendment passed 16-14.

The bill was voted out of the Appropriations Committee today on a bipartisan vote. The next steps would be for the bill to be sent to the Senate floor for a full Senate vote, and eventually to be merged with a counterpart bill from the U.S. House of Representatives in order to be passed by both houses and signed into law.