U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks to reporters after addressing a joint session of the Alaska Legislature on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018, in Juneau, Alaska. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)

Sens. Lisa Murkowski, Jeff Merkley pinning new marijuana banking measure to SAFE Banking Act

FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and a bipartisan group of senators are pushing legislation that would allow legal marijuana businesses to use banks to store profits.

Murkowski and Democrat Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon have introduced a measure within the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act that Merkley sponsored last year, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Thursday.

The measure would prevent federal officials from being able to punish banks simply “because the depository institution provides or has provided financial services to a cannabis-related legitimate business.”

Many banks refuse to do business with marijuana growers, processors and sellers because marijuana is still a controlled substance under federal law.

“While there are financial institutions which will bank marijuana-related businesses, many are uncertain about the state of the law,” Murkowski said. “The SAFE Banking Act is intended to resolve these uncertainties, not only for the benefit of the marijuana businesses but also for the states that regulate them.”

Murkowski said that allowing marijuana businesses to set up bank accounts could help states manage the businesses better.

“States that have moved to legalize marijuana did so with the understanding that markets would be well-regulated and transparent,” Murkowski said.

Murkowski said other officials have expressed similar views.

“That is why a number of attorneys general, including Alaska’s, believe that it is urgent for Congress to clarify that marijuana and marijuana-related businesses that operate legally under state law can deposit their receipts in the bank, just as other lawful businesses do,” Murkowski said.

In January, Murkowski spoke out in favor of state’s rights after U.S Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memorandum, put in place by former President Barack Obama to ease federal prosecutions of state-compliant cannabis businesses.

Related: Sens. Lisa Murkowski, Jeff Merkley lead call to preserve marijuana banking access

The legislation, currently being discussed by Senate committee, could prove to be a welcome change for Alaska’s cannabis industry.

“If that passes, it’s going to be a huge deal for us,” said Lenin Lau, bookkeeper at GOOD AK Cannabis in Fairbanks. “It’s going to lower a lot of expenses for us if we no longer have to hand-deliver cash to different locations.”

Related: Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner support Senate companion bill to SAFE Banking Act

Information from: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner