Unfinished business: Senate stalls marijuana banking bill

WASHINGTON — A bill that would provide banking access to marijuana businesses was one of the items Congress left unfinished in 2019 and the Senate has yet to vote on the measure.

The sale of medical or recreational marijuana has been legalized in 33 states but the booming industry does not have access to banking because marijuana sales are still federally illegal.

“In an industry that I think drifts toward problems anyway,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO). “But if you make it all cash, you highly increase the bad things that can happen.”

Blunt and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) both support the Safe Banking Act passed by the U.S. House last year. They said having a cash-based industry creates many problems.

“An invitation to assaults because people carry bags of money; an invitation to robberies, to break into stores because there’s a lot of cash registers. It’s an invitation to cheating your employees or cheating on your taxes because there’s no electronic records,” said Merkley.

But the bill also faces stiff opposition in the Senate. The chairman of the Banking Committee said he’s concerned giving the marijuana industry access to banking will make it easier for drug cartels to launder money.

“What this is really about is federally legalizing marijuana for all states,” said Luke Niforatos with Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a non-profit that lobbied to stop the bill from passing.

“The states that have said, ‘We don’t want to have it be legalized’ will still have to deal with the consequences,” Niforatos added.

He called the marijuana industry the “new big tobacco” and said his organization will fight any bills that help the industry grow.