As Louisiana’s medical marijuana program starts to come online, David Boneno, general counsel with the Louisiana Bankers Association, says it will take banking reform at the federal level to clear up the marijuana banking conundrum.
Although marijuana has been legalized in some way in more than 30 states, its ban at the federal level has largely cut the cannabis industry off from banking services, leading many companies in the industry to operate by cash only.
It’s a problem that will only be exacerbated in Louisiana once it’s medical marijuana program is rolling, Boneno warns, and he’s been talking with the FDIC and other federal agencies for clarity.
“It’s only going to become more of an acute problem as banks uncover that customers are somehow doing business with marijuana,” Boneno says, adding it could affect pharmacies, suppliers, fertilizer suppliers and even those providing legal services to companies associated with the budding Louisiana cannabis industry.
When providing services to businesses connected to the cannabis industry, banks open themselves to the possibility of money laundering charges and forfeiture of assets as marijuana remains listed as a Schedule I controlled substance. Boneno says it’s going to take changes at the federal level to ultimately resolve the issue.
Meanwhile in Washington D.C., legislators appear to be trying to address the issue. The Senate held its first committee hearing Tuesday on a bipartisan bill that would protect banks from cannabis-related penalties. The SAFE Banking Act, which has passed a House committee, is being backed by the American Bankers Association as it would “improve financial transparency and oversight, as well as help law enforcement identify suspicious transactions.”