Alyssa Sutton

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum along with 19 other attorney generals wrote to Congress urging them to advance legislation allowing states with legalized medical or recreational marijuana to bring that commerce into the banking system. Banks are currently hindered by federal law from providing financial services to marijuana businesses, even in states where those businesses are regulated.

“Oregon’s legal marijuana industry is thriving under the carefully considered state regulated requirements we have put in place,” Rosenblum said. “However, in the years we have had medical marijuana, and now recreational marijuana, these businesses have been forced to hide in the dark shadows of the banking industry.

“It is both dangerous and short-sighted to inhibit banks from accepting money from law-abiding businesses in states with legal medical or recreational marijuana. It’s time Congress acts to make sure the marijuana industry is lawfully brought into the banking industry.”

Oregon U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley is a co-sponsor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act, which would give legal cannabis businesses access to banking services. Merkley and Oregon U.S. Senator Ron Wyden joined several other senators in states that have legalized the sale of marijuana to petition President Trump to reinstate the Cole Memorandum, which was recently rescinded.

The Cole Memorandum was issued by former U.S. Attorney General James. M. Cole in 2013. It stated that prosecutors and law enforcement should focus on the prevention of distribution of marijuana to minors, prevention of revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, prevention of the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law, prevention of state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs, prevention of driving while under the influence of marijuana and the prevention of growing marijuana on public lands or possession or use on federal property.

The Cole Memorandum was also noted by the general attorneys in their letter. The general attorneys argued that the rescission has made even more urgent the need for congressional action to get the cash generated by the marijuana businesses into a regulated banking sector.

The letter stated, “Twenty-nine states and several U.S. territories have legalized the medical use of marijuana. Among those, eight states and the District of Columbia also allow recreational use by adults over 21 years of age. However, because federal government classifies marijuana as an illegal substance, banks providing services to state-licensed cannabis businesses could find themselves subject to criminal and civil liability under the Controlled Substances Act and certain federal banking statutes.”

In the letter the senators refer to the 10th Amendment, stating that it “constrains the role federal government has in intrastate policy. Rescinding the Cole Memorandum upended the careful balance struck between the federal and state government on marijuana enforcement.”

“It’s a huge issue,” said Rona Lindsey, owner of Hwy 30 Cannabis in La Grande. “It is not only a commerce and economic issue. It’s also a safety issue.”

See complete story in Monday's Observer