By Michael R. Blood, Associated Press
(AP) — Bank officials and others urged Congress this week to fully open the doors of the U.S. banking system to the legal marijuana industry, a change that supporters say would reduce crime and resolve a litany of challenges for cannabis companies, from paying taxes to getting a loan.
Most Americans live in states where marijuana is legally available in some form. But there’s a problem when it comes to banks: Most don’t want anything to do with money from the cannabis industry for fear it could expose them to legal trouble from the federal government, which still considers marijuana illegal.
That conflict has left many growers and sellers in the burgeoning pot industry in a legal dilemma, shutting them out of everyday financial services like opening a bank account or obtaining a credit card. It also has forced many businesses to operate only in cash — sometimes vast amounts — making them ripe targets for crime.
Banking, government and industry representatives at a House committee hearing in Washington urged lawmakers to pass a proposal that would allow pot businesses to access loans, lines of credit and other banking services, while sheltering financial institutions from prosecution for handling pot-linked money.
Gregory S. Deckard, who spoke on behalf of the Independent Community Bankers of America, said the cloud of legal uncertainty was inhibiting access to banks while creating safety hazards for businesses.
The number of banks and credit unions currently willing to handle marijuana-related money is growing, but they still represent only a tiny fraction of the industry.
The hearing came just days after Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden proposed legislation that would give states a free hand to allow legal cannabis markets without the threat of federal criminal intervention. The proposal would take marijuana off the federal controlled substances list and remove federal criminal penalties for individuals and businesses acting in compliance with state marijuana laws. An identical proposal is pending in the House.
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong