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Senate approves banking for pot businesses


The bill now awaits Gov. Kate Brown's signature.

The Oregon Senate approved legislation Friday that removes criminal liability for providing financial services to marijuana-related businesses.

Entrepreneurs who have taken advantage of the state's new legalized recreational pot laws have had to rely on cash transactions, raising security issues and concerns about how to collect taxes on sales without the convenience of a checkbook and a bank account.

State and federal laws largely restrict banks and credit unions from providing financial services to pot-related businesses because the federal government still classifies weed 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.

The emergency bill passed Friday in the Senate 18-to-6, and Feb. 16 in the House of Representatives, 56-to-3. It will remove criminal liability for providing banking services under Oregon law, though it gives no protection against federal prosecution. The bill now awaits Gov. Kate Brown's signature.

HANDOUT - Rep. Tobias Read, D-BeavertonThe 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.

Some financial institutions, such as Maps Credit Union in Salem, have already taken the risk of serving marijuana businesses. Maps serves cannabis dispensaries, said Kevin Cole, the institution's chief financial officer.

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.

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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