Congressional Democratic leaders are circulating the text of a bill allowing marijuana businesses to store their profits in banks that they are considering passing this year.
The document was released by the House Financial Services Committee ahead of a scheduled Wednesday hearing on the cannabis industry’s lack of access to banks.
Authored by Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Denny Heck (D-WA), Steve Stivers (R-OH) and Warren Davidson (R-OH), the draft bipartisan legislation contains several new provisions that didn’t appear in past bills on marijuana businesses’ access to depository institutions.
For example it specifies for the first time that ancillary businesses providing products or services to the cannabis industry should be allowed to bank, and adds protections for marijuana-related “retirement plans or exchange traded funds” as well as “the sale or lease of real or any other property [and] legal or other licensed services…relating to cannabis.” The “distributing or deriving any proceeds, directly or indirectly, from cannabis or cannabis products” is also covered under the bill.
“Maintaining a checking account or utiliz[ing] payment processors can prove challenging” even for businesses that don’t directly handle cannabis, a related memo prepared by the committee says, citing electricians, plumbers and landlords. “For example, in early 2017, dozens of companies selling ancillary products and services to cannabis-related businesses were unexpectedly purged and lost access to major payment processors, like PayPal and Square.”
Another new catch-all provision in the proposal makes clear that “proceeds from a transaction conducted by a cannabis-related legitimate business shall not be considered as proceeds from an unlawful activity solely because the transaction was conducted by a cannabis-related legitimate business.”
The draft also proposes adding explicit protections for banking services offered to marijuana businesses that are regulated by Indian tribes, in addition to those operating under state or local laws.
An additional change from previous bills adds language directing the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council to develop “uniform guidance and examination procedures for depository institutions that provide financial services to cannabis-related legitimate businesses.”
And a related directive requires regulatory agencies like the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the National Credit Union Administration to each issue guidelines to banks for working with cannabis businesses.
The memo about the new draft legislation says that the proposed bill “would would harmonize federal and state law by prohibiting federal banking regulators from engaging in certain actions against financial institutions, such as discouraging, prohibiting, or penalizing depository institutions that serve cannabis-related legitimate businesses.”
The committee’s majority staff, which prepared the document, notes the growing gap between state and federal marijuana laws.
“An increasing number of financial institutions have expressed interest in providing banking services to state authorized cannabis-related businesses as nearly all states have authorized various degrees of cannabis use, such as for medical use,” they wrote. “Most states have deviated from an across-the-board prohibition of marijuana, and it is now more so the rule than the exception that states have laws and policies allowing for some cultivation, sale, distribution, and possession of marijuana—all of which are contrary to the federal Controlled Substances Act.”
After laying out a series of reports that banks must file about their marijuana-related customers under 2014 Obama-era guidance, the memo says that “many financial institutions remain reluctant to serve cannabis-related businesses, and many of those businesses continue to have little to no access to traditional banking services.”
“As such, cannabis-related businesses have been described as a ‘soft target’ for being robbed and assaulted, having their stores broken into, and their plants stolen,” the staffers wrote. “Despite the public safety and other risks, many of these businesses have to operate as purely cash businesses, unable to accept credit cards, deposit their profits or write checks to pay employees or taxes.”
The memo also makes clear that the legislation covers employees of banks. “This safe harbor is intended to provide certainty for financial institutions to offer their products and services to well-regulated cannabis-related businesses,” it says.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), the committee’s new chairwoman, said late last year that “it’s inevitable we are going to have to talk about” cannabis businesses’ access to banks. Now she’s making good on that statement by scheduling the hearing in her panel’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions.
Banking is just one marijuana issue that Democrats are considering advancing legislation on in 2019 under a plan proposed by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).
Other issues on the table include tax fairness for marijuana businesses, medical access for military veterans and removing barriers to scientific research—all potentially leading up to the passage of a broader bill to end federal cannabis prohibition by the end of the year.
For now, the focus is on banking, with the House subcommittee set to hear from the California state treasurer, a marijuana business owner, bankers and a law enforcement group working to end the war on drugs at the Wednesday hearing.
Read the draft marijuana banking bill below:
Draft Congressional Marijua… by on Scribd
Read the cannabis banking memo that the Financial Services Committee wrote below:
Congressional Marijuana Ban… by on Scribd