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Senator Presses Attorney General Garland On Marijuana Banking Bill’s Impact On Criminal Investigations



A Democratic senator on Wednesday pressed Attorney General Merrick Garland about a bipartisan marijuana banking bill, seeking his perspective on a controversial section concerning broader financial regulations.

During a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) asked the attorney general for his opinion of Section 10 of the original Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act.

“Section 10 of the original legislation would have compromised law enforcement and national security by requiring banks to notify customers when the government requested termination of an account,” Reed said. “In essence, the original language meant that serious criminals could be tipped off that they are under investigation.”

“Fortunately, through a bipartisan committee process, we worked to address major flaws in Section 10 and curbed its negative effects,” the senator said. “Do you agree that such a policy would handcuff law enforcement and the intelligence community if the bank had to disclose that their account has been terminated by law enforcement?”

Garland replied that while he’s familiar with the SAFER Banking Act itself, he wasn’t up-to-speed on the specific provisions Reed mentioned.

“As a theoretical matter without commenting on that, obviously, if we are investigating someone and that person is advised of our investigation, that makes our investigation all the more difficult and may compromise it,” the attorney general said. “But I can’t answer specifically with respect to the statute.”

Watch the attorney general discuss the marijuana banking bill, starting at 1:37:27 into the video below:

Reed seemed to be using the opportunity at the hearing to reiterate his own concerns about Section 10, which was revised following months of bipartisan negotiations. Republicans broadly favor the language as a means of mitigating the risk of financial regulators taking discriminatory enforcement action against politically controversial industries such as gun manufacturers and payday lending institutions.

Prior to the bill’s passage through the Senate Banking Committee last September, Section 10 was also expanded to include a “sense of Congress” provision stipulating that the personal and political beliefs of financial regulators should not influence their decision-making.

Separately on Wednesday, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said at a National Cannabis Policy Summit that the section “helped tie the Democratic and Republican supporters together, and it’s important element of this bill.”

He added that it “has been a really tricky piece, though, because the regulators don’t want to be told what to do” and there were “really nitty gritty arguments over every single word in the SAFER Banking Act that affects those customers.”

The attorney general, for his part, didn’t express an opinion about the broader banking legislation, though he said last year that the Justice Department is “still working on a marijuana policy” amid an ongoing review into cannabis scheduling. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is currently conducting its own review after receiving a recommendation to reschedule cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

Meanwhile, Garland is also under pressure to issue updated guidance to federal prosecutors to discourage interference in state cannabis programs after an earlier memo was rescinded under the Trump administration.

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