Legal marijuana, banking rules combine to create dangers for cash-rich businesses

Local News

WASHINGTON (KLAS) — Bankers and cannabis industry experts were on the hill today, asking senators to pass a bill that would allow marijuana businesses to access traditional financial services.

“It’s difficult, and frankly, it’s dangerous,” said John Lord, who owns a marijuana company in Colorado that brings in $100 million a year. But he can’t use a checking account. “I had no choice but to walk into the IRS office in Denver with more than $3 million in cash in order to pay federal taxes.”

Lord is just one of the thousands of businesses caught between states that allow marijuana sales and federal regulations that won’t allow banks to work with them.

“The federal government has failed to respond,” said Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo. “It has closed its eyes and plugged its ears and pretended and hoped that the issue will just go away. But it won’t.”

Both the American Bankers Association and Credit Union National Association want change. But groups like the Virginia-based non-profit Smart Approaches to Marijuana say using banks would make marijuana sellers appear more legitimate.

“By skipping ahead to a technicality over banking rules, the marijuana industry is hoping to gain many of the benefits of federal legalization without a debate over the public health effects,” said Garth Van Meter, director of legislative affairs at Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

Congress still clashes over federal legalization of marijuana. For now, lawmakers seem comfortable leaving it up to the individual states, where only three have refused some form of cannabis

Colorado Republican Cory Gardner and Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley have teamed up on the safe banking act. Designed to protect the financial institutions and the non-cannabis companies that interact with marijuana sellers.

“Let’s fix this,” Merkley said. “Let’s honor the states rights vision of all of these states that have said this makes sense here in our location for our citizens.

Lawmakers say the current situation also gets tricky for the employees of marijuana companies. Some have lost their account after the bank found out who they work for.

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