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NWCUA, MWCUA partner to present cannabis banking legislative panel

March 17, 2021

The Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA) and the Mountain West Credit Union Association (MWCUA) partnered earlier this month to present a virtual panel discussion on the topic of cannabis banking. The Associations brought together Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR 3rd District), Christopher Arneson, Senior Policy Advisor for Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO 7th District) to discuss the unique challenges financial services providers face serving this industry, what legislation is in the pipeline, and how credit unions are involved in the process.

Providing financial services – even to legal cannabis businesses – is challenging, because federal law still considers marijuana to be a narcotic, creating compliance risks for financial institutions that serve the legal businesses in their states.

“Washington, Oregon, and Colorado were among the first states in the country to legalize the use of cannabis,” said Troy Stang, president/CEO, NWCUA. “In these states, legal cannabis businesses are generating billions in economic impact, and employing thousands of workers. Now, with more and more states passing legalization, we felt it was time our organizations led a robust discussion to look into how we can move legislation forward to provide financial services solutions for the industry.”

Today, the non-medical use of cannabis is decriminalized in 16 states (plus the U.S. Virgin Islands), and legalized in another 14 states (plus Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the District of Columbia). A total of 47 states have some form of legal marijuana businesses operating, including products such as CBD, medical marijuana, and recreational marijuana.

“Typically, this is the week in our industry when the credit union presence on the Hill in Washington is strong,” said Scott Earl, President & CEO of MWCUA. “Because we are having our annual advocacy events virtually, we had an opportunity to work with the Northwest Association to address a topic that is growing across the country. This gave us a forum to bring together the legislative champions on this issue to meet with credit unions across both of our regions. We have a chance to work together to help address a serious need.”

The panelists discussed the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (SAFE Banking Act), which would:

  • Give explicit legal clearance for financial institutions to grant banking services to state-sanctioned cannabis businesses and related business entities.
  • Offer much-needed, narrowly targeted federal protections for credit unions and other financial institutions who accept deposits from, extend credit to, or provide payment services for an individual or business engaged in cannabis-related commerce in states where the activity is legal ─ as long as the activity is compliant with all other applicable laws and regulations.
  • Bring revenue from states sanctioned cannabis entities and hemp businesses into the financial services mainstream and, as a result, keeping communities safe by removing vast amounts of cash off the streets.
  • Increase the reporting and transparency of information about the cannabis industry to the benefit of law enforcement, tax revenue officials, and other regulators.

Noting the momentum the Act gained in the last Congress, all panelists said they think it could pass during this session.

“The table is set. We are in an even stronger position in the Senate, and public opinion continues to grow stronger,” said Rep Blumenauer, adding that five new states legalized marijuana in the November elections. 

Sen. Wyden has long supported a federal legislative remedy for financial institutions to serve the legal marijuana industry. In his home state of Oregon, more than 2,500  cannabis businesses are licensed to grow and sell marijuana and marijuana products.

“Outdated federal rules force legal cannabis business owners and employees into the unsafe and unfair practice of carrying around cash when they should have the same access as any other small business to financial institutions,” Wyden said. “Reforming these regulations from yesteryear is essential to long-needed and common-sense overhaul of cannabis policy that lands especially hard on minority, women, and veteran entrepreneurs who just want to create jobs in their communities.”

More than 80 credit union executives from across the two associations’ six states attended the virtual event as a kick-off to activities in conjunction with the Credit Union National Association’s Governmental Affairs Conference, being held virtually this week. Other events include Hill visits with the region’s legislative members.