Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski wants to fix cannabis’ banking problem

Thor Benson / Cannabis News Box Contributor

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is part of a growing group of senators who are pushing to pass legislation that would allow cannabis businesses to do business with federally regulated banks. They’re trying to pass a bill called the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which was introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) at the end of last year.

“While there are financial institutions which will bank marijuana-related businesses, many are uncertain about the state of the law,” Murkowski told Alaska’s News-Miner. “The SAFE Banking Act is intended to resolve these uncertainties, not only for the benefit of the marijuana businesses but also for the states that regulate them.”

It’s not illegal for banks to do business with the cannabis industry, but many banks worry that they could face scrutiny from the federal government if they start doing it. This legislation would erase that uncertainty and help the cannabis industry fix one of its biggest problems.

“Not having access to traditional banking products and services has caused a major problem for cannabis business and regulators,” Cory Wray, director of the Alaska Cannabis Institute, told Cannabis News Box. “A lot of these cannabis businesses are flush with cash but don’t have anywhere to deposit it. This makes them a target.”

Wray said that it also means these businesses have to pay for every little thing with cash, which can be extremely inconvenient. “Imagine if you’re a cannabis business in Juneau and you have to take a couple days off to bring taxes, in cash, to Anchorage,” Wray said. “That’s a very cumbersome way to do business.”

Though Murkowski is supporting this important reform, Wray said he doesn’t feel like she has been the strongest cannabis advocate overall. He said she tends to focus on the oil industry, which employs a lot of people in Alaska.

“The ideal fix to the cannabis banking issue is credit unions and community banks created by the cannabis industry,” Wray said. “The cannabis industry needs to do this. I’m sure soon you’ll see some of the successful cannabis businesses in Alaska come together, pool some resources, and begin making loans to aspiring cannabis entrepreneurs or cannabis businesses that need credit.”

Obviously, an even more sweeping fix to the problem would be the legalization of cannabis nationwide, but until that happens, Wray thinks community banks and credit unions could be a great solution.