Marijuana Moment is a wire service assembled by Tom Angell, a marijuana legalization activist and journalist covering marijuana reform nationwide. The views expressed by Angell or Marijuana Moment are neither endorsed by the Globe nor do they reflect the Globe’s views on any subject area.
When members of Congress convene for a hearing on banking services for the marijuana industry next week, they’ll hear testimony from a state treasurer as well as individuals representing financial institutions, a drug policy reform organization, and a medical cannabis dispensary.
The hearing is the first of the new Congress to address federal cannabis policy. It will cover the challenges that cannabis businesses face in securing accounts and credit lines from banks that are wary of taking on clients with ties to a federally banned substance.
The list of witnesses who will be called before the House has not yet been publicly released, though it was obtained by Marijuana Moment.
Among those who are scheduled to testify at the Wednesday event is Major Neill Franklin, a retired Maryland police officer who serves as the executive director of Law Enforcement Action Partnership. LEAP opposes the criminalization of drug use and advocates for regulatory models that “balance personal freedom and responsibility with the public health risks of death, disease, and addiction.”
Being able to share the group’s perspective before Congress “feels like vindication for the decades-long silent treatment received from many comrades for taking an unpopular position on drug policy reform,” Franklin told Marijuana Moment.
Corey Barnette, owner of the District Growers Cultivation Center and Metropolitan Wellness Center, which produce and sell medical cannabis in D.C., will also appear before the subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee.
Other witnesses include California State Treasurer Fiona Ma, who has advocated for financing reform at the state and federal levels to make it easier for marijuana businesses to open bank accounts, access credit, and pay taxes electronically, rather than in cash.
The cannabis market “is the biggest underground economy we have, so we’re trying to bring them into the light, and having some kind of banking is important,” Ma said last year. “Paying your taxes with duffel bags full of cash isn’t safe or efficient for anyone involved.”
Rachel Pross, the chief risk officer at the Oregon-based Maps Credit Union, will testify on behalf of the Credit Union National Association. And Greg Deckard of State Bank Northwest in Washington State will represent The Independent Community Bankers of America.
While a 2014 guidance memo from the Obama administration was meant to provide clarity and comfort for banks working with marijuana businesses, many financial services providers have remained reluctant to take the risk. At the same time, however, the number of banks working with cannabis industry clients did increase by about 20 percent over the course of 2018, according to a federal report.
Earlier legislative attempts to institute laws explicitly shielding banks from punishment didn’t receive hearings or votes. This time around, the Democratic-controlled House is preparing to hold votes on a marijuana banking bill this session.
“Being on the right side of history feels really good,” Franklin said. “It feels like coming up for a breath after swimming four lengths of an Olympic size pool.”