A bipartisan coalition of 22 state attorneys general is calling on Congress to pass a marijuana banking bill that cleared a key Senate committee on Wednesday.
In a letter sent to congressional leaders on Tuesday, the top law enforcement officials of nearly half the states in the U.S. said they have a “strong interest in enabling economic growth and stability while simultaneously protecting the physical and economic wellbeing of constituents working in this industry.”
Citing the fact that a majority of states have legalized cannabis in some form, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in profit, the attorneys general said marijuana policy is “evolving rapidly and the industry is growing even faster.”
“The current federal laws present a risk of criminal and civil liability to banks providing services to state-licensed cannabis dispensaries and related businesses,” they wrote. “This risk has significantly inhibited the ability of financial institutions to provide services to regulated cannabis operators and leaves those businesses struggling to find financing.”
“Further, where the public perceives that regulated businesses can only conduct business in cash, employees and customers are at greater risk of violent crime in pursuit of that cash,” the letter says. “Several jurisdictions have seen a spike in robberies of cannabis businesses, some of which have resulted in deaths. Steady access to regulated banking is essential to the economic success of these businesses and the physical safety.”
Existing federal policy additionally complicates state tax collection and oversight of the marijuana industry, the top state law enforcement officials said. The Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act that passed the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday and now heads to the floor “would ensure that state governments do not forfeit hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue that the cannabis industry generates.”
“To address these challenges, we ask that the Senate advance the SAFER Banking Act or similar legislation that would establish a safe harbor for depository institutions providing a financial product or service to a regulated business states that have regulations to ensure accountability in the cannabis industry. An effective safe harbor would bring billions of dollars into the banking sector, enabling law enforcement, federal, state, and local tax agencies, and cannabis regulators in thirty-eight states and several territories to more effectively monitor and ensure compliance of cannabis businesses and their transactions.”
“Our banking industry must be given the tools to address the needs of businesses throughout the states and territories. This will enable the evolution of a banking system for legalized cannabis-related businesses that is both responsive and effective in meeting the demands of our economy,” the letter concludes. “We look forward to working with you as Congress moves forward in this process and to lending our voice and expertise as you develop legislation.”
The letter was led by Maryland Attorney General Anthony G. Brown (D), Washington, D.C. Attorney General Brian L. Schwalb (D) and Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond (R). It was also signed by the attorneys general of Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Arizona, Massachusetts, California, Maine, Colorado, Michigan, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Mexico, Washington State, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.
That’s a significantly expanded list of signatories compared to last year, when just the attorneys general of Colorado and Ohio wrote to Senate leadership, imploring action to resolve the cannabis industry banking problem.
In 2021, another group of four bipartisan attorneys general sent a letter to congressional leaders arguing that any effort to federally legalize marijuana should be done in a manner that respects the autonomy of states while providing necessary resources to ensure that cannabis is effectively regulated.
The focus of the latest letter, however, is on the SAFER Banking Act, which is advancing to the floor following a committee markup on Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has vowed to bring it to the floor “as quickly as possible.” (Full Story)