State and federal laws hold banks and credit unions criminally liable for providing services to legal pot enterprises.

HANDOUT - Rep. Tobias Read, D-BeavertonSALEM – While voters have legalized marijuana in Oregon, state and federal laws still largely restrict banks and credit unions from providing financial services to pot-related businesses.

An emergency bill expected to soon be voted out of the House Business and Labor Committee would remove criminal liability for providing those services in Oregon, though it would give no protection against federal prosecution.

“Currently, marijuana businesses … have been mostly denied access to the banking system because, at a minimum, financial institutions that provide such services must spend heavily on compliance infrastructure and procedures to undertake the required due diligence review and monitoring of the business,” said Pamela Leavitt, of the Northwest Credit Union Association.

“Without the ability to access bank accounts, accept credit cards, or write checks, businesses must operate using large amounts of cash,” Leavitt said. “This creates safety risks for businesses and surrounding communities and makes it more difficult for local and state governments to collect taxes.”

The bill bill by Rep. Tobias Read, D-Beaverton, also allows the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and the Oregon Health Authority to provide financial institutions with confidential information on license and permit holders in the marijuana industry. The information would otherwise be exempt from public disclosure.

OLLC regulates recreational pot, while the Oregon Health Authority oversees the medical program.

Read said the bill would reduce the risk and liability to financial institutions and direct the Department of Consumer and Business Services to study other ways to overcome obstacles to accessing financial services.

“The voters of Oregon decided we were going to proceed with the legalizing of marijuana and cannabis businesses, and I think it’s clear that however one feels about that, that presents a number of problems,” Read said. “We can all agree that duffels full of cash are not a good thing.”

Maps Credit Union in Salem already provides some financial services to cannabis dispensaries, said Kevin Cole, the institution’s chief financial officer.

Cole said the bill is “a first step towards normalizing credit union services for licensed cannabis dispensaries.”

The legislation still can’t protect banks and credit unions from lawsuits leveraging federal statutes against organized crime. Such lawsuits have sought to stop the cannabis industry in other states such as Colorado.

The Legislature passed a resolution last year urging Congress to lift restrictions on providing financial services to the marijuana industry and to declassify marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. That classification is defined as the most dangerous drugs at high risk for abuse in the Controlled Substance Act of 1970.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, and Rep. Earl Perlmutter, D-Colorado, last year introduced the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act to allow legal marijuana businesses to access banking services. The legislation found some support in the House but has yet to receive any action in the Senate.

By Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau Reporter
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