Bulletin staff report

Nineteen state attorneys general, including Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, urged Congress in a letter Tuesday to pass legislation allowing legalized marijuana businesses access to banking services.

Allowing banks to serve the cannabis industry would “bring billions of dollars into the banking sector and give law enforcement the ability to monitor these transactions,” according to the letter.

Rosenblum added her name to those of attorneys general from Alaska to Maine.

“It is both dangerous and short-sighted to inhibit banks from accepting money from law-abiding businesses in states with legal medical or recreational marijuana,” Rosenblum’s office quoted her in a news release as saying. “It’s time Congress acts to ensure the marijuana industry is lawfully brought into the banking industry.”

Even though 29 states, including Oregon, have legalized marijuana in some form, it’s still illegal under federal law. Consequently, most large banking institutions, being federally regulated, refuse to provide services for cannabis businesses.

On Jan. 4, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rolled back an Obama administration policy of allowing states where marijuana is legal to police themselves, provided they kept to certain guidelines. For banks, that meant increased reporting requirements. With some exceptions, most banks even then declined services to cannabis businesses.

The banking dilemma for the state Revenue Department, for example, means the state takes in millions in sales-tax payments in cash. Cannabis business owners pay their employees and their bills in cash, traveler’s checks or by checks written on accounts opened under other pretenses, according to a department spokeswoman who testified before a legislative committee in February.

At the time, Deanna Mack, legislative liaison for the Revenue Department, told lawmakers that about 60 percent of tax payments by Oregon cannabis retailers arrives in cash. Until banks can accommodate cannabis businesses without fear of federal prosecution, she said, “we basically have to plan to deal with high volumes of cash.”