Reflecting growing public support for changing the nation’s drug laws, a bipartisan group of senators on Thursday introduced the chamber’s first bill that would legalize banking for recreational marijuana companies.
Introduced by the Senate delegations from Oregon and Colorado, two of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, the bill would prohibit the federal government from penalizing banks that work with marijuana businesses.
Though four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana, the drug is still illegal under federal law. That makes it difficult for businesses operating in those legalized states to access financial services through the banking industry. Instead, those companies have to run all-cash operations that the senators say invite crime.
The entire legal landscape that legal marijuana currently faces is “insane,” said GOP Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado in an interview.
“If you’re an employee or a store owner you can’t put money in the bank, but if you’re a municipality collecting tax you can collect the tax, you can put it in the bank and you can spend it. This is insane,” Gardner said. “It solves a public safety issue, it clarifies a regulatory nightmare and it clears up a pretty blatant hypocrisy.”
Indeed, Congress has been extraordinarily hesitant to address the nettlesome issue of marijuana law. Another landmark bill for the Senate from Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) that would legalize medical marijuana in states that have approved it has run into opposition from the Senate’s old guard.
But the upbeat Gardner noted that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) now supports a bipartisan bill that would exclude cannabidiol, which has more medicinal uses, from the definition of marijuana in federal law. He said Congress will come along, eventually.
“Now, does it have a chance? I think there’s a lot of work that has to be done to give it that chance, but I also think that in 10 years most every other state in the country is going to be facing this question,” Gardner said. “People are coming on board and people are starting to realize we have a policy that’s kind of out of step.”