Bipartisan Group of Senators Introduces Legislation to Provide Access to Banking Services for Legal Marijuana Businesses

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, a bipartisan group of Senators – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO), Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) – introduced the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2015, legislation 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 been mostly denied access to the banking system because banks 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. This creates safety risks for businesses and surrounding communities, and makes it more difficult for local and state governments to collect taxes.

“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. That must end,” said Merkley. “The people of Oregon have spoken, and the federal government should make sure that legal marijuana businesses can operate properly within our banking system. It’s time to let banks serve these legal businesses without fearing devastating reprisals from the federal government.”

“Ever since Colorado voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana, conflicting federal and state marijuana laws have required banks to refuse basic financial services to marijuana-related businesses in Colorado. In turn, this has forced the industry to adopt an all-cash business model that fosters violent crime and puts all Coloradans at risk,” said Gardner. “This commonsense legislation solves a major public safety problem in my state by giving legitimate businesses acting in compliance with state laws access to the banking system.”

“By compelling Oregon business owners to operate on a cash-only basis, current federal laws are making marijuana businesses sitting ducks for violent crimes and perpetuating negative stereotypes. It is ridiculous to make any business owner carry duffle bags of cash just to pay their taxes,” Wyden said. “Our bill will finally force the federal government to respect the decision Oregonians made at the polls and allow law-abiding marijuana businesses to go to the bank just like any other business.”

“Since the legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana in Colorado, businesses across the state have lacked access to basic banking services,” Bennet said. “This has raised significant public safety concerns for both employees and customers of these businesses. It’s also created compliance and oversight challenges. This bill helps address those issues by allowing our banking system to serve these legal businesses like any others.”

“Small, legal businesses should not be turned away from banking services because of fear of unjustified federal prosecution, and this legislation will ensure that they have access to the same services as other small businesses and can continue to grow and succeed,” said Murray. “I am proud to be a voice for Washington state and support this legislation to provide much-needed clarity and security for our banks, credit unions, and businesses.”

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 bank is providing services to a state-sanctioned marijuana business;
  • Recommending or incentivizing a bank 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 banks and their officers and employees who provide financial services to legitimate, state-sanctioned marijuana businesses, while maintaining banks’ right to choose not to offer those services.

The bill would require banks 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 recreational marijuana policies.