Editorial: Help marijuana businesses with banking access

Editorial: Help marijuana businesses with banking access

Oregon’s marijuana businessmen and women find themselves in a pickle where banking is concerned. What they do is legal in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Alaska and the District of Columbia, though it’s still illegal under federal law.

That makes it difficult — impossible, really — to do things that most business owners take for granted. They cannot open marijuana business bank accounts because federally regulated banks worry about reprisals from the federal government.

As a result, they’re forced to keep far too much cash on hand, which, in turn, makes them more vulnerable to crime. That’s not good for store owners, and it isn’t good for the communities in which they operate.

Without bank accounts, marijuana business owners must pay taxes in cash. Most cannot allow their patrons to use credit cards. And so on.

All those problems would disappear if the federal government had a more reasonable approach to marijuana. Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Portland, has been making that point loudly for some time. He’s also pushed to have the drug removed from the Controlled Substances Act and treated more like cigarettes than like heroin. He’s sought to remove the barriers that prevent marijuana business owners from behaving as other legal businesses do with regard to financial institutions.

He’s not alone in that latter effort.

Thursday, four U.S. Senate Democrats, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, both of Oregon, and Patty Murray of Washington and Michael Bennet of Colorado wrote to federal financial regulators. Their message was simple. It’s time for clear federal guidelines regarding how banks and credit unions deal with marijuana business owners. Those guidelines, they contend, will make it easier for banks to serve what are legal businesses in their home states.

Lawmakers are not asking the federal government to start passing out joints on street corners. Instead, they want to assure that in states where marijuana is legal, those who grow it and sell it have the same access to the nation’s financial institutions and any other business owner has. It’s not too much to ask.