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Cannabis Banking Measure Approved by Senate Committee, Still Has a Long Way to Go

June 16, 2016

Earlier today the Senate Appropriations Committee passed the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill, which included an amendment from Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) 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’s 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 Sen. Jeff Merkley. 

“This is an invitation to robberies, money laundering, and organized crime,” he continued. “We need to enable our banks to serve these legal businesses without fearing devastating reprisals from the federal government.”

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“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 Sen. 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 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 next hurdle for the bill will be a full Senate floor vote.

A similar measure, also introduced by Merkley and Murray, passed out of the Appropriations Committee on a 16–14 vote last July, but ultimately didn't make it into the final approved bill. 

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