Alaska’s AG among 19 asking feds for pot banking rules
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ move this month destabilizing policies on marijuana has left Alaska’s attorney general, along with those from a third of states, seeking legislation to clarify the federal stance on banking involving pot stores.
Jahna Lindemuth, Alaska’s attorney general, and 18 of her counterparts from other states have signed a letter to leaders in Congress, asking that they pass a measure providing “safe harbor” under federal law for financial institutions serving state-approved marijuana firms.
In a statement announcing the letter, Lindemuth said the move was a bipartisan effort, based on the fact that it was “good policy.”
“Most importantly, bringing the cash from state-licensed marijuana businesses into the banking system will alleviate the public safety issues that come with having to rely on cash, instead of depositing money in a bank,” Lindemuth said. “It will also help state regulators better oversee the new industry and go after bad actors.”
Sessions’ decision to no longer follow the so-called Cole memorandum, dating back to the Obama administration, has raised questions about the extent to which firms selling marijuana in legal-pot states like Alaska may face federal prosecution. His memo has also raised the possibility of banks which serve those businesses being considered money-laundering entities in federal eyes.
While the state attorneys general acknowledged that “challenges remained in many areas” under the Obama administration policy ended by Sessions, they emphasized the stable framework it provided for the marijuana industry in pot-legal states. In addition, they mentioned the tax benefits of having those funds accurately reported in the 29 states and several U.S. territories which now permit medical or recreational pot.
“The recent rescission of that guidance has made the need for Congressional action to get the cash generated by this industry into a regulated banking sector even more urgent,” the letter read.
Sessions’ policy allows U.S. attorneys in pot-legal states discretion over their prosecution of marijuana-related cases. Bryan Schroder, Alaska’s U.S. attorney, has said he plans to focus his marijuana prosecutions on “combating violent crime, including as it stems from the scourge of drug trafficking.”
Emma Pokon, a special assistant to Lindemuth, said Tuesday afternoon that the Department of Law hasn’t heard anything further from Schroder on the issue beyond his previous statement.
“At this point we haven’t seen a shift, but it hasn’t been long since we saw the message from HQ so it remains to be seen how things play out,” Pokon said. “I think we have a good working relationship with the Department of Justice in Alaska, so I think we’ll continue to work on that relationship.”
Lindemuth’s signature on the letter wasn’t predicated by Sessions’ announcement, Pokon said. The attorneys general haven’t yet heard back from anyone in Congress about the letter.
“The letter was in the works before that memo came,” Pokon said. “It’s been an issue that’s been out there, and state leaders have been trying to work through it.”
A request for comment to Schroder’s office asking about his position on marijuana-related financial transactions wasn’t immediately answered Tuesday.
Besides Lindemuth, the letter was signed by attorneys general from California, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Washington.
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