A bipartisan group of senators is stepping up the push to let marijuana businesses store their profits in banks, with a possible vote coming as soon as this week.
Under the current federal prohibition of cannabis, many banks refuse to do businesses with marijuana growers, processors and sellers that operate legally in accordance with a growing number of state laws. As a result, many cultivators and dispensaries operate on a cash-only basis, which makes them targets for robberies.
That could soon change under a proposal that ten U.S. senators filed on Wednesday.
The measure, led by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), would prevent federal officials from punishing a financial service provider “solely because the depository institution provides or has provided financial services to a cannabis-related legitimate business.”
It is an amendment to a larger bill being considered on the Senate floor this week that would remove some restrictions that were enacted on financial institutions as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act.
Despite a U.S. Department of Justice move in January to undo protections for state marijuana laws, a top Trump administration official has repeatedly indicated he wants to solve cannabis businesses’ banking access problems.
Treasury Sec. Steven Mnuchin, in an appearance before a House committee last month, testified that the issue is at the “top of the list” of his department’s concerns.
During a separate House hearing last month, Mnuchin indicated he wants cannabis businesses to be able to store their profits in banks.
“I assure you that we don’t want bags of cash,” he said. “We do want to find a solution to make sure that businesses that have large access to cash have a way to get them into a depository institution for it to be safe.”
Prior to being confirmed by the Senate last year, Mnuchin said in response to written questions from a senator that marijuana businesses’ banking and tax issues are “very important.”
In 2014, under the Obama administration, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) published a memo outlining how banks can open accounts for cannabis businesses without triggering federal enforcement actions. But because the document did not change overarching federal laws, many banks have remained reluctant to work with marijuana providers.
In January, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a broader Obama-era policy that had generally allowed states to implement their own marijuana laws without Justice Department interference. That decision spurred concern that the Trump administration will delete the banking memo too.
Late in January, a Treasury official wrote in a letter to lawmakers that the department is “consulting with law enforcement” about whether to keep the cannabis guidance for depository institutions.
The policy remains in effect for now, a Mnuchin deputy testified at a Senate hearing.
Along with Merkley and Murkowski, the other cosponsors of the new cannabis banking amendment are Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Rand Paul (R-KY), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Edward Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Kamala Harris (D-CA).
Similar standalone legislation has 15 Senate cosponsors, while a House companion version has 89 lawmakers signed on.
It is currently unknown if the measure will receive a floor vote as part of the consideration of the broader banking reform bill.
Documents released by FinCEN late last year showed that the number of banks willing to work with the marijuana industry has steadily grown over time, but that data was compiled prior to the revocation of the Justice Department guidance on state cannabis laws.