State attorneys general want Congress to give banks the go-ahead to work with marijuana companies

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra and top law enforcement officials in other states want Congress to make it easier for banks to work with marijuana companies.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

California’s top law enforcement official and his counterparts in 18 states and territories say Congress must act to end the banking industry’s prohibition on serving the marijuana industry, calling the current state of affairs a public safety threat and a hindrance for law enforcement.

In a letter sent Tuesday to leaders of the House and Senate, California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra and other state attorneys general urged Congress to pass legislation that would provide legal protection for banks that accept deposits from state-licensed cannabis businesses.

Most banks, even in states where the drug is legal, won’t offer accounts to marijuana-related businesses for fear of running afoul of federal regulators or law enforcement officials. That leaves the fast-growing marijuana industry largely reliant on cash.

This “grey market,” state officials argue, makes it more difficult for states to ensure businesses are paying their taxes and “contributes to a public safety threat as cash-intensive businesses are often targets for criminal activity.”


Giving banks the go-ahead to work with cannabis companies “would bring billions of dollars into the banking sector, and give law enforcement the ability to monitor these transactions,” according to the letter.

The letter — whose bipartisan signatories include the attorneys general of Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska, North Dakota, Maine and Iowa — comes little more than a week after U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions revoked some of the agency’s Obama-era guidance regarding cannabis law enforcement, a move that some have suggested could portend a federal crackdown.

Among other things, Sessions’ move could force changes to anti-money laundering guidelines that some banks and credit unions have relied on to work with cannabis businesses. State attorneys general said that makes it important for Congress to act quickly.

“The recent rescission of that guidance has made the need for Congressional action to get the cash generated by this industry into a regulated banking sector even more urgent,” they wrote.


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