On Feb. 16, the Oregon Legislature passed House Bill 4094, promising Oregon’s financial institutions protection from state criminal liability when catering to the cannabis trade. The bill was read to the House during the second week of this year’s 35-day legislative session, and passed with a vote of 56-3 on Feb. 16. On Feb. 26, the State Senate passed the bill, so it’s off to the governor for a signature.
Since Oregon voters legalized recreational cannabis, lawmakers have sought to bridge the gap between conflicting federal and state laws that have both prohibited banks from managing funds, storing money, and providing credit when interacting with dispensaries.
Cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, so lenders are wary of dealing with pot shops for fear of being charged with money laundering associated with sales of the Schedule I drug. If banks accept money from dispensaries, they may also risk losing their Federal Deposit Insurance, which guarantees financial stability.
Last year, Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and Colorado’s Representative Earl Perlmutter proposed the Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act to allow legal dispensaries access to banking services, but this proposal was rejected by the feds. Now, thanks to HB 4094, both large-branch banks and independent credit unions in Oregon will finally be exempt from criminal liability at the state level.
According to a press release from New Economy Consulting, bill sponsor Representative Tobias Read (D-Beaverton) explained the merits of the bill. “This is an important first step in reducing risk and providing security for banks, credit unions, and the public,” said Read. “Without a clear timeline from the federal government, the state needs a solution, even if it’s temporary.”
If signed by the governor, HB 4094 does not necessarily guarantee that more Oregon banks will agree to work with local dispensaries. Though Salem’s Maps Credit Union is rumored to currently provide services to one or more Oregon cannabis suppliers, it will be the individual prerogative of any additional financial institutions to aid other dispensaries since the bill still does not provide liability protection on a federal level.
Ensuring access to bank accounts will eliminate the dangerous practice of cannabis businessmen and women storing piles of cash in-store and transporting paper money in duffel bags back and forth to banks. The risks of both criminal assaults to weed vendors and increased criminal activity in areas surrounding dispensaries could both be greatly reduced.
In addition, developing ongoing relationships between local banks and dispensaries will allow the state and its individual cities to begin properly collecting tax revenue from pot businesses, thus ensuring continued improvements in Oregon’s economy.
By Kiki Genoa