Merkley, Wyden introduce marijuana banking bill

Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden on Thursday joined a bipartisan group of senators and introduced a bill designed to make it easier for legal marijuana businesses to get financial services.

Recreational marijuana is legal in several states, including Oregon, but it’s still illegal under the federal Controlled Substances act, which is why most banks won’t work with legal marijuana businesses.

The bill introduced Thursday would ease the worries of banks.

“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,” Merkely said in a news release.

“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.”

The bill would prevent federal bank regulators from penalizing banks for working with legal marijuana businesses.

The U.S. Treasury and U.S. Department of Justice have issued guidance to banks wishing to work with legitimate marijuana businesses. The guidance hasn’t been enough to convince banks to work with legitimate marijuana businesses.

Last week Oregon Bankers Association President Linda Navarro said she didn’t know of any Oregon banks working with marijuana businesses. A handful of Washington state credit unions have started working with marijuana businesses.

The bill is the Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act of 2015.