Bankers urge Crapo, who heads Senate banking committee, to hold hearings on marijuana

Hotbox CBD store is open in Ontario, but no dispensary yet

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Customers also want to know when they're opening their dispensary. The answer is: Maybe a couple of months. Although there's still Huntington.

The budding legal marijuana industry can’t use banks and credit unions, but bankers are trying to change that.

Although marijuana is now legal in a number of states, companies that sell it cannot use banks and credit unions to store funds. Banking association officials from all 50 states – including Idaho – are working to change that. They’re writing to Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, who chairs the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

On March 28, the House Financial Services Committee voted 45 to 15 to pass H.R. 1595, the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act of 2019, with 191 cosponsors. But the bill hasn’t passed the House. A Senate version was announced on April 11, with 22 cosponsors.

Banking associations want Crapo to schedule hearings, but Crapo doesn’t appear likely to do that any time soon.

“Senator Crapo has said that he is very aware of concerns from financial institutions on this front and it is an issue that needs to be addressed, but as long as cannabis is illegal under federal law, it seems difficult for Congress to resolve the issue,” said Amanda Critchfield, Crapo’s spokeswoman. “It is probably something the Department of Justice needs to address before Congress acts. Crapo has not committed to holding a hearing on it, but it is something we are looking at.”

Earlier this year, Crapo criticized eight banks for withholding access to credit and services from other businesses that comply with federal and state laws but are politically disfavored, such as firearms manufacturers.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, thinks the Justice Department should address the potential legal threat facing banks that do business with companies serving marijuana firms before Congress takes up the issue. Susan Walsh AP

Since 1996, 33 states, covering 68% of the nation’s population, have legalized cannabis in some form, the May 20 banking association letter noted. But federal law prevents banks from serving these businesses without fear of sanctions. So the businesses, including an increasing number of businesses providing products and services to cannabis companies, operate on an all-cash basis, which is unsafe and inefficient, the associations wrote.

“Without relief from Congress, many banks find themselves caught in the financial web created by indirect connections to this business,” said Trent Wright, president and CEO of the Idaho Bankers Association.

It will soon be “almost impossible” for banks to avoid those services businesses as cannabis grows into an estimated $24 billion industry by 2025, Wright wrote.

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The Independent Community Bankers of America lists the issue as one of its legislative priorities.

According to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, the bill would increase insured deposits at banks nationwide by about $1.2 billion and at credit unions by about $200 million, beginning in 2022. Those amounts would rise to $2.1 billion and $350 million by 2029.

Cannabis in any form, including industrial hemp, is illegal in Idaho. As long as that is the case, it is uncertain to what degree Idaho banks and credit unions could conduct business with cannabis companies, even if it was allowed on a federal level. Several Idaho banks and credit unions operate in states where cannabis is legal.

Idaho Republican Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch both attended the May 24, 2018 ceremony where President Donald Trump signed into law Crapo's bill easing some Dodd-Frank bank regulations.

Multistate banks and credit unions operating in Idaho generally wouldn’t take a position on the legislation.

“If the legality were to change at the national level, then we would have an opportunity to take another look at it within the markets we serve,” said Kelly McPhee, vice president of communications and public relations for Banner Bank, which operates in California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

“As a federally regulated institution, we follow federal laws,” said Darcy Donahoe-Wilmot, a spokeswoman for Chase Bank, which operates in 26 states. “We support the ABA in their request for more legislative clarity on a complicated issue.”

“If and when the federal laws are changed, we will address our official opinion with all of the relevant information available at that time,” said Tony Rasmussen, vice president of public relations and financial education for Mountain America Credit Union, which operates in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada.

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