The attorneys general of 21 states sent a letter to congressional leaders on Monday, voicing support for a bipartisan bill that would shield state-legal marijuana programs from federal interference.
Led by Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, along with the top law enforcement officials in New York and Nevada, the letter emphasizes that the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act would enable cannabis businesses to access financial services, increasing transparency and mitigating risks associated with operating on a largely cash-only basis.
Passing the STATES Act would “lift the cloud of regulatory uncertainty that hangs over legitimate businesses operating in most states in the union and in several territories” and, thereby, “reduce the industry’s reliance on cash, bring greater clarity to the industry, prevent crime by limiting opportunities for potentially violent robberies and thefts, and ensure that each state has the freedom to determine policy in this area,” the state officials wrote.
Current federal law prevents banks from providing services legal #cannabis businesses—an industry expected to generate revenue between $50-$80 billion over the next 10 years.
Forcing these businesses to operate only in cash leaves communities vulnerable to violence and crime.
— AG Karl A. Racine (@AGKarlRacine) September 23, 2019
Attorneys general from Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington also signed the letter.
“Forcing legal cannabis businesses to operate only in cash leaves communities vulnerable to violence and crime,” Racine said in a press release. “Our bipartisan coalition is urging Congress to pass the STATES Act because it would allow those in the legal cannabis industry to access the U.S. banking system, provide long-overdue transparency and accountability, and deter criminal activity like robbery and money laundering.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James said that “as the marketplace for legal cannabis-related business evolves, federal regulations governing the banking system must keep pace.”
“It’s not only commonsense to fold a growing multi-billion-dollar industry under the regulated banking sector, but it’s also a matter of public safety. With such widespread, bipartisan support, there is no reason this bill shouldn’t pass without delay,” she said.
In a tweet, Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford said that “each state knows its industry and needs best, and that’s why we’re urging Congress to pass legislation that will allow NV and other states to determine the best approach for regulating cannabis.”
Each state knows its industry and needs best, and that's why we're urging Congress to pass legislation that will allow NV and other states to determine the best approach for regulating cannabis.
— Aaron D. Ford (@AaronDFordNV) September 23, 2019
California Attorney General Becerra said in a press release that “it’s time for our federal laws relating to cannabis to enter the 21st century.”
“A large majority of states have now legalized the use of marijuana in some form. But federal inaction has accelerated concerns about public safety, uncertainty and disruptions to licensed businesses, and ultimately the respect for states’ rights,” he said. “The STATES Act is a promising step in the right direction that would safeguard licensed businesses that play by the rules in what has become a more than $8 billion industry.”
Despite the focus on banking in the letter, the intent of the STATES Act isn’t exclusively about providing marijuana businesses with access to financial services. That represents one potential benefit for the industry, but the bill is generally about offering states broader protections so they can establish their own cannabis systems without fear of reprisal from the Justice Department.
A separate piece of legislation—the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act—is narrowly tailored to freeing up banks to work with marijuana firms. Racine and 37 other attorneys general wrote a letter supporting that bill in May, and it is now heading to the House floor for a vote on Wednesday.
“Ultimately, legislation like the proposed STATES Act recognizes the reality on the ground: across the country, state governments, America’s ‘laboratories of democracy,’ have been working toward those cannabis policies that work best for them,” the new letter states. “Against this backdrop, the [Controlled Substance Act’s] outdated restrictions imperil states’ rights, and in the process, impose serious regulatory and public safety consequences.”
“As law enforcement officers and as lawyers representing our states and territories, we believe the time has come to do better. We urge the adoption of legislation like the proposed STATES Act,” the officials said.
Read the full STATES Act letter from attorneys general below:
This story was update to include comment from James and Ford.
Photo courtesy of Nicholas C. Morton.