AGs: Congress must allow cannabis businesses to access federal banks

ATTORNEYS GENERAL: A coalition of attorneys general from 38 states and territories, including Guam, is urging Congress to allow cannabis-related industries access to national banks. Los Angeles Times file photo Content Exchange

In light of the growing cannabis industries across the nation, a group of 38 attorneys general is urging Congress to allow cannabis-related businesses access to the banking system.

Guam Attorney General Leevin Camacho has joined this coalition, he announced in a press release.

Specifically, the coalition wants Congress to pass the federal Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act, H.R. 1595, or similar measures that would give licensed cannabis-related businesses access to the federal banking system.

"This legislation would give properly licensed cannabis-related businesses access to banking services, reducing the likelihood that they will become targets of crime," Camacho said. "The SAFE Banking Act would also improve the ability of the Department of Revenue and Taxation to regulate and monitor cannabis-related sales and revenue."

There was an estimated $52 billion market for marijuana in 2016 but of that, only $6.2 billion came from legal marijuana sales, according to a Reuters report citing statistics from cannabis industry research group Arcview. The rest of the nearly $46 billion came from sales on the black market, meaning 87 percent of marijuana sales that year were illegal.

Growing industry needs banks

The call from attorneys general follows other efforts to resolve the cannabis cash clash between the federal government and states and territories that allow some form of cannabis industry in their jurisdiction.

Under existing law, federal regulators prohibit financial institutions from providing services to cannabis businesses in states and territories where medical or recreational cannabis sales are legal. The SAFE Banking Act permits cannabis-related businesses in states and territories with existing regulatory structures to access the federal banking system.

The American Bankers Association, in a fourth quarter 2018 report titled "Compliance and the Cannabis Conundrum," noted that Guam, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia and 33 states have legalized some level of marijuana use, and urged Congress to address the contradictory policies.

Despite legalization at the state or territory level, the national bankers group stated, "the possession, distribution or sale of marijuana remains illegal under federal law, which means any contact with money that can be traced back to state marijuana operations could be considered money laundering and expose a bank to significant legal, operational and regulatory risk."

Widespread support

The SAFE Banking Act has widespread, bipartisan support with 172 cosponsors in the U.S. House. The House Financial Services Committee approved the bill in March and now it awaits a vote by the full House.

With the backing of 38 of the nation's attorneys general, the National Association of Attorneys General has chosen to endorse the legislation as one of its official policy positions.

In the letter, the signatories wrote, "Our banking system must be flexible enough to address the needs of businesses in the various states and territories, with state and territorial input, while protecting the interests of the federal government. This includes a banking system for marijuana-related businesses that is both responsive and effective in meeting the demands of our economy."

Historically, NAAG endorses fewer than a dozen policies a year.

The coalition of attorneys general represent Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, the Northern Mariana Islands, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

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