WASHINGTON Dec 14 The U.S. government should
keep banks from cutting off the accounts of vendors who work
with state-sanctioned marijuana businesses, 10 U.S. senators
said in a letter to the Treasury on Wednesday.
Medical or recreational use of marijuana is legal in more
than half the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, and
the list is growing with voters in eight states approving
pot-related ballot measures last month.
The drug is still deemed illegal by the federal government.
Guidance it issued in 2014 on how to provide financial services
to state-approved marijuana dispensaries without running afoul
of U.S. law, has spooked banks and credit unions from taking
accounts in the cannabis industry.
That nervousness has spread to landlords, security guards,
chemists, lawyers and other vendors working with marijuana
businesses, according to the lawmakers, who included Republican
Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, where commercial marijuana has been
legal since 2014.
Eight Democrats, including Massachusetts' Elizabeth Warren
and Oregon's Jeff Merkley, and Bernie Sanders, the Vermont
independent who ran for the 2016 Democratic presidential
nomination, also signed the letter.
"Most banks and credit unions have either closed accounts or
simply refused to offer services to indirect and ancillary
businesses that service the marijuana industry. A large number
of professionals have been unable to access the financial system
because they are doing business with marijuana growers and
dispensaries," they wrote.
The Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement
Network is reviewing the letter, according to a spokesman.
Members of both parties have embraced making banking easier
for marijuana-related businesses. Some Republicans believe
states have the right to choose how to treat marijuana, and
many, including President-elect Donald Trump, believe the drug
could have medical benefits.
Adamantly opposing loosening restrictions on pot is Senator
Jeff Sessions, Trump's pick for attorney general.
The marijuana industry sees challenges in Sessions becoming
the country's law enforcement officer but does not anticipate
immediate federal threats if he is approved, said Robert
Capecchi, a lobbyist with the Marijuana Policy Project.
The federal government cannot conscript local law
enforcement and would have to send its own forces to crack down
on marijuana businesses, at a significant cost, he said.
"I don't think they're going to aggressively go after the
businesses and I really don't think they're going to start
arresting patients," he said. "I cannot imagine individuals in
Mississippi want their tax dollars to go toward breaking up
medical marijuana businesses in Connecticut."
(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Peter Cooney)