Senators to U.S. Treasury: Preserve marijuana banking access

Sens. Lisa Murkowski, Jeff Merkley and 13 other senators wrote the director of FinCen to urge continued assistance for cannabis businesses

A bipartisan group of 15 senators on Thursday joined the chorus of Congress members calling on the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s to keep intact marijuana banking guidance.

FinCEN guidelines established in 2014 outlined how financial institutions should approach banking services with marijuana-related businesses.

That Obama-era guidance provided “much needed stability for a growing market,” U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. and 13 other senators wrote in a letter sent Thursday to FinCEN leadership.

We see the removal of protections on financial institutions, which are operating in accordance with state laws, as a poor alternative to creating meaningful policy though the political process,” the senators wrote. “This guidance must remain intact because the risks involved in removing it are too great.”

The language in the senators’ letter mirrors that of a letter 31 House members sent Wednesday to FinCEN.

“Leaving your guidance unchanged will continue to encourage small companies to make investments by freeing up access to capital,” that letter said. “It will also further provide for well regulation and oversight through suspicious activity reports.

“Rescinding this guidance would inject uncertainty in the financial markets. Attempts to disrupt this market are dangerous and imprudent.”

Thursday’s letter from the senators also makes many of the same points Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner made in a letter sent Jan. 11 to FinCEN leadership.

Bennet and Gardner said they feared that repealing the 2014 Guidance would “push more businesses toward cash, which may raise public safety issues and reduce the oversight and transparency of marijuana transactions,” The Denver Post reported.

On Jan. 4, uncertainty swelled in the cannabis industry following Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ removal of the Cole Memo and related marijuana-guidance, which laid out that enforcement priorities should not be focused on state-legal marijuana regimes. Sessions’ new guidance put the onus on federal prosecutors as to the extent they’d utilize federal resources for marijuana enforcement.

FinCEN officials last Friday told The Cannabist that the guidance remains in place.

“The SAR (Suspicious Activity Report) reporting structure laid out in the Feb. 14, 2014, guidance remains in place,” Stephen Hudak, a FinCEN spokesman, wrote via email to The Cannabist. “FinCEN will continue to work closely with law enforcement and the financial sector to combat illicit finance, and we will notify the financial sector of any changes to FinCEN’s SAR reporting expectations.”

Read the letter