Cannabis banking bill brought back

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, revived a bill Wednesday that, if passed, would create access to banking services for legal marijuana businesses in the United States.

Speaking to reporters by phone, Merkley said the truce struck during the Obama administration between states like Oregon, where marijuana is legal, and the federal government, which categorizes the drug as illegal, is endan gered by the Trump administration. During the Obama administration, the Treasury and Justice departments put forth guidelines that allowed legalized cannabis businesses to operate without fear of criminal prosecution and civil liability.

Despite that, banks, many of which are federally insured and regulated, refused to risk doing business with cannabis businesses for fear the regulatory environment would change. Under the Trump administration, the Justice Department has signaled a hard line against drug crimes.

The Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act of 2017, if passed, would permit banks to provide account services in states with legal cannabis businesses.

“It’s difficult and dangerous to operate a business in cash,” Merkley said. Cannabis businesses, he said, “should have the same resources as any other business.”

The bill has nine co-sponsors, including Merkley and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and two Republicans, Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

This is the fourth version of a bill that has failed to gain traction in Congress since 2013. Merkley said the growing number of states with some form of legalized marijuana, now 28, and opinion polls that show a majority of Americans in favor of legalizing medical or recreational cannabis or both are creating momentum for a change in fede ral law.

— Bulletin staff report