WASHINGTON-The governors of Washington and Colorado called on NCUA and bank regulators last week for guidance on their states' newly-legal marijuana trade, as legislation in Congress to legalize pot banking is stalled.
The governors, who are implementing new rules legalizing recreational marijuana use, have been lobbying Congress for enabling legislation that would clear up contradictions between federal law and the new state laws.
But prospects for the bill are doubtful, prompting the extraordinary gubernatorial lobby.
"I don't see it passing this year, but at least we can get the debate going," the bill's sponsor Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., told Credit Union Journal.
The Washington and Colorado governors called on NCUA, the FDIC, Federal Reserve, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Comptroller of the Currency for expedited action to fully allow legal marijuana businesses, like medical dispensaries, to "promote public safety and provide a significantly better means of meeting the state (Department of Justice) enforcement priorities." "Enabling marijuana producers, processors and retailers to accept Automated Clearing House transactions (credit and debit cards), would reduce the amount of cash in the system and lessen the threat of criminal activity."
The legal drug trade poses a potentially lucrative opportunity for credit unions and banks, as 19 states and the District of Columbia, already authorize some use of marijuana, as well as Washington and Colorado.
Rep. Perlmutter told the Credit Union Journal that credit unions, banks and other financial services providers have been reluctant to serve legal marijuana dispensaries because of the conflict with federal laws and the possibility they could be involved in civil forfeiture proceedings or even charged with money laundering or other crimes.
The bill introduced by Perlmutter and Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash. (whose state also legalized the use of marijuana), would clear up the uncertainty over legal issues. The two House members last week called on NCUA and banking regulators to issue their own rules easing the restrictions, absent passage of their bill. At press time, Perlmutter said he had not yet heard back from regulators.
"Colorado and Washington are in the process of implementing citizen initiatives permitting the production, processing, and sale of marijuana to adults for recreational use, in compliance with state law," Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper say in the letter to regulators. "Access to the banking system by these state-licensed businesses is a necessary component in ensuring a highly regulated marijuana system that will accurately track funds, prevent criminal involvement and promote public safety."