In the U.S., cannabis businesses have had very limited access to banking and financial services due to federal prohibition, but that may soon change as a draft bipartisan bill makes its way through the process.
There have been such bills put forth that failed, as recently as last year, including an attempt to tie the issue to other bills that needed to pass. A new bill authored by representatives Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Denny Heck (D-WA), Steve Stivers (R-OH) and Warren Davidson (R-OH) takes on the goals of prior legislative attempts and adds new provisions that could increase access to financial services.
The draft document was released by the House Financial Services Committee in mid-February before a hearing on the cannabis industry’s lack of banking access. A few of the new provisions include protections for cannabis-related “retirement plans and exchange traded funds” and include language allowing ancillary businesses that provide products or services to the cannabis industry to be allowed to bank. According to a memo from the committee, everyone from plumbers to landlords can be impacted as an “ancillary business.”
“For example, in early 2017, dozens of companies selling ancillary products and services to cannabis-related businesses were unexpectedly purged and lost access to major payment processors, like PayPal and Square,” according to the memo.
Other provisions in the current draft of the cannabis banking bill:
- Creates protections for banking services for cannabis businesses that are regulated by Indian tribes.
- Directs the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council to provide “uniform guidance and examination procedures for depository institutions that provide financial services to cannabis-related legitimate businesses.”
- Requires many agencies, including the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, to publish guidelines for banks working with cannabis businesses.
The contradiction in state and federal laws is creating trouble for banks, states, and government agencies, not just the cannabis businesses directly. According to the committee’s memo, “Most states have deviated from an across-the-board prohibition of marijuana, and it is now more so the rule than the exception that states have laws and policies allowing for some cultivation, sale, distribution, and possession of marijuana—all of which are contrary to the federal Controlled Substances Act.”
The committee says that the current state of banking services for cannabis means that cannabis-related businesses are “soft targets” for being targeted for theft. The language in the new bill is geared toward fixing that. “This safe harbor is intended to provide certainty for financial institutions to offer their products and services to well-regulated cannabis-related businesses,” according to the committee memo.
The cannabis banking bill is still in the early stages and may look very different by the time it’s out of committee. There is no doubt, however, that this bipartisan effort is the latest in a series of pushes to make the taxation on the cannabis industry more equitable, to provide veterans with medical access, and to make scientific research possible in the U.S. There are even whispers that a bill to end federal prohibition may be released before the end of the year. But as with all legislation, it’s all theory until it’s voted on and passed.