Access to banking remains one of the critical areas businesses need help
By Vicki Christophersen
The momentum of legalized cannabis and its footprint on public policy has taken a big step on the national stage. The bipartisan Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2015 has gained traction with members of Congress across the country, including the support of U.S. senators Michael Bennet (D-Colorado), Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Patty Murray (D-Washington).
Whether this proposal can overcome significant political and cultural barriers remains to be seen. But legislation of this ilk is critical for supporting the long-term success of state-regulated cannabis industries, such as those created by Washington and Colorado voters in 2012.
In order to support small business owners in this industry, we must ensure that they have access to banking services.
Sen. Murray’s statement in support of the bill reminded us that “small, legal businesses should not be turned away from banking services because of fear of unjustified federal prosecution.” This legislation will ensure that regulated cannabis business owners “have access to the same services as other small businesses,” by providing “much-needed clarity and security for our banks, credit unions and businesses,” she said.
Those in the legal cannabis industry have experienced the extremely difficult, day-to-day challenges involved with owning and operating a cannabis-related business while dealing with conflicting and often adversarial processes with national banks. Business and personal accounts have been suddenly and unfairly frozen, business loans are almost non-existent and basic business insurance policies are often unavailable. In order to encourage a successful, regulated marketplace for cannabis, we need to provide the same business services that we expect in every other industry. Legalization has brought the industry into the light; it cannot be forced backward by an inability to conduct itself professionally and without the financial tools meant to support industry and entrepreneurship.
The bipartisan Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act of 2015 would prevent federal banking regulators from:
– Keeping a bank from providing financial services to a state-sanctioned and regulated marijuana business;
– Terminating or limiting a bank’s federal deposit insurance for providing services to a state-sanctioned, regulated marijuana business;
– Supporting actions a bank could take to halt or downgrade any kind of banking services to these businesses; or
– Taking any action on a loan to an owner or operator of a marijuana-related business.
The licensed cannabis industry is rapidly becoming a foundational component of some states’ economic vitality. We are working hard with community members, lawmakers and regulators on our shared vision of a legal marketplace that makes our communities safer and keeps marijuana out of the hands of minors. Local and national support of these common sense reforms are critical to ensuring each state’s small business owners can continue to invest in the long-term future.
Vicki Christophersen is the executive director of the Washington CannaBusiness Association (WACA).