It was six years ago that a bill to protect the industry’s simple ability to open bank accounts was first introduced into Congress. However, Congress has yet to deliver serious deliberations on the matter. I’m happy to see there is finally some movement on the topic, though I’m not sure how long it will be before things get resolved.
On February 13th, the Financial Services Committee of the House of Representatives opened a hearing on “access to banking services for cannabis-related businesses.”
The Risks of Not Providing Access to Banking Services for Cannabis Businesses
One of the first witnesses was Ms Rachel Pross, Chief Risk Officer, Maps Credit Union, a financial co-op in Salem, Oregon that provides services to cannabis businesses. She wasn’t there representing Maps Credit specifically, but the Credit Union National Association.
Pross warned that there are “numerous unscrupulous players trying to benefit from the severe shortage of legitimate financial services available to cannabis businesses, and concerns around criminal prosecution are only feeding those predatory players’ flames.”
There are businesses offering various payment “solutions” to cannabis business in lieu of banking. These solutions can be anything from cashless chits to cryptocurrencies to prepaid gift cards. She believes Congress ought to be concerned about the spread of such mechanisms, which would deprive the government of “valuable information on cannabis-related financial activity or the movement of cannabis within the United States.”
They are not regulated in the same way banks are, and this is putting legal businesses (and their revenue) at risk. So, can’t we argue that by not providing legitimate ways to bank, the US government is encouraging such alternatives to cash? It’s just not smart business.
When States Themselves Struggle with Cannabis Banking Services
What is perhaps more striking even than the problems a state-legal business can have getting access to financial services is the problem that a state itself can have doing the same.
In West Virginia, the lower chamber passed a bill designed to serve as a stopgap, encouraging banking services for the state’s own medical marijuana program until such time as Congress legalizes marijuana. The state’s medical marijuana program is slated for launch this summer.
The problem, in the lead-up to the introduction of the medical program, is that the bank that handles the state’s own checking account, BB&T, says that it will not handle cannabis money. It does not want to process the licensing fees that the state is expected to receive under the program. Mike Stuart, US Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia is against legalization, therefore creating fear from banks that there will be repercussions should the bank accept cannabis business deposits - even from the state.
So: the lower house, known in West Virginia as the House of Delegates, proposes (HB 2538) that the state treasurer select via competitive bid a financial institution or institutions that will handle the necessary services. As in Ms Pross’ Oregon, it seems likely the credit unions will be the ones to step up to this challenge under existing law.
The bill also codifies certain (state-level) legal protections for the financial institutions, state employees, and state officers who are involved in the program.
This is a continued mess, and it is well past time for activists to focus full bore on the matter of financial services for the cannabis industry.
Baumann, David. “CUs Need Safe Harbor to Serve Legal Marijuana Businesses: CU Risk Officer,” Credit Union Times. February 13, 2019.
Beard, David. “House Judiciary Committee Passes Medical Cannabis Banking Bill.” WV MetroNews. February 8, 2019.
Georgacopoulos, Christina. “Cannabis and Crypto: Equal Beneficiaries in the Fight to Hit the Mainstream,” Cointelegraph. September 11, 2018.
Mistich, Dave, “US Attorney Mike Stuart Holds Invite-Only Anti-Marijuana Event.” WV Public Broadcasting. December 12, 2018.
Pross, Rachel, “Testimony of Rachel Pross, Chief Risk Officer Maps Credit Union on Behalf of the Credit Union National Association Before the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Financial Services, Committee on Financial Services, House of Representatives,” February 13, 2019.
US House Committee on Financial Services. “Challenges and Solutions: Access to Banking Services for Cannabis-Related Businesses,” Hearings, February 13, 2019.
Zukerman, Jake. “Medical Marijuana Banking Bill Passes House,” The Herald-Dispatch. February 17, 2019.