The Senate introduced a bipartisan bill on Thursday that would prevent criminal prosecution as well as liability and asset forfeiture for banks that do business with a state-sanctioned marijuana business.
Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, both of Colorado, announced the bill in a joint statement.
Last year, the Treasury Department said banks could serve the marijuana industry under certain conditions. Many banks call the guidelines too onerous, resulting in a marijuana industry that still relies heavily on cash. That reliance on cash rather than traditional banking methods has made marijuana dispensary operators robbery targets.
Marijuana advocacy groups lauded the new bill, citing safety issues involved with cash-rich businesses.
“Whether you are for or against legalization, you have to recognize that having marijuana businesses handling huge amounts of cash with nowhere to deposit the money is a public safety concern that Congress has to tackle,” said Michael Collins, a policy manager at Drug Policy Alliance. He added that dealing exclusively in cash also makes it difficult to collect taxes.
Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado, a state that legalized marijuana in 2012, praised the Senate bill, saying the federal government has a duty to ensure the safety of people as the marijuana legalization experiment expands in states across the country.
“The legal marijuana industry is worth nearly $3 billion nationwide,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association. “We shouldn’t be forced to carry that around in duffel bags.”
Al Jazeera and the Associated Press