A black credit card from the New York-based HSBC bank.

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Senators Urge FinCEN to Allow Bank Access to Legal Canna-businesses

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators has sent a letter to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network urging the agency to explicitly allow financial institutions to do business with legal canna-businesses.

In the letter, sent to Acting Director Jamal El-Hindi, the senators argue that due to the disparity between federal and state drug laws “many legal businesses are forced to operate in cash, which jeopardizes community safety, limits economic growth, and greatly expands the opportunity for tax fraud.” The senators say that a 2014 memo by FinCEN and the Department of Justice meant to clarify reporting requirements and provide clarity to the legal cannabis industry and financial institutions “did not distinguish between state-sanctioned marijuana businesses and the indirect businesses that service the marijuana industry” leaving that determination to the banks and credit unions.

“Indeed, since FinCEN’s 2014 guidance was released, less than 3 [percent] of the nation’s 11,954 federally regulated banks and credit unions have chosen to serve the cannabis industry,” the letter states.

The senators contend that the lack of codified rules has led to the closure of accounts for chemists, lawyers, security professionals, and others who do not work directly with the plant.

“To be clear, these legitimate, indirect businesses have been unable to open checking accounts and accept credit cards or checks. In some cases they have also lost access to existing accounts, such as retirement accounts, and have been forced to pay their employees, taxes, and bills in cash. Locking lawyers, landlords, plumbers, electricians, security companies, and the like out of the nation’s banking and finance systems serves no one’s interest.”

The letter was signed by Senators Jeff Merkley, (D-OR) Ron Wyden (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Patty Murray (D-WA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Al Franken (D-MN), Angus King (I-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

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