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Effort to pass laws aimed at increasing marijuana businesses’ access to banks is gaining momentum

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From Ciara Linnane: The push for legislation that would allow banks to do business with cannabis companies without the risk of federal enforcement action is gaining momentum, and credit unions are playing a key role.

The National Association of State Treasurers adopted a resolution on Friday that calls for “common-sense federal laws and regulations” for companies in states that have legalized cannabis for medical or recreational use that are forced to deal with large amounts of cash.

“Cash-based systems are inefficient, expensive and opaque, making illicit activity more difficult to track and posing a significant risk to public safety by increasing the likelihood of violent crime,” the association said in its resolution.

Because cannabis remains a Schedule I drug at the federal level, a classification that groups it with heroin, federally insured banks are unable to do business with companies for fear of being shut down, a situation that experts agree is hampering the development of the sector.

As Canadian companies enjoy their first-mover status in the only G-7 country to fully legalize cannabis, U.S. companies have been unable to open bank accounts or tap capital markets to raise the funds needed to grow their businesses, and many have been forced to hire security companies, such as Brink’s Co. BCO, -1.68% , to guard cash piles.

‘We wouldn’t tolerate [half of all businesses being burglary victims] in any other industry, and we shouldn’t tolerate it here.’

Ryan Donovan, Credit Union National Association

Ryan Donovan, chief advocacy officer for the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), said one out of every two cannabis businesses has been robbed. “We wouldn’t tolerate that in any other industry, and we shouldn’t tolerate it here,” he told MarketWatch.

Credit unions have a core mission of serving the communities they operate in, and are keen to help the fledgling cannabis sector grow and thrive, but they, too, need a safe harbor or state exemption to fully participate, he said. CUNA has no official position on cannabis itself, but it would like to see one of two measures currently under consideration be adopted, said Donovan.

The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act is a bipartisan bill introduced in March that would protect banks and their employees from liability for federal prosecution when servicing cannabis companies. The bill is sponsored by Colorado Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter, Washington Democratic Rep. Denny Heck and two Ohio Republicans, Steve Stivers and Warren Davidson, and is supported by the banking sector, the National Association of Attorneys General and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, among others.

Separately, lawmakers are promoting the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, which gives each state the right to determine its own approach to cannabis legislation. That bill is backed by Elizabeth Warren and Cory Gardner, both Senate Democrats and presidential hopefuls, and Attorney General William Barr has said it is his preferred solution.

“The bill that becomes law will be the better bill,” said Donovan. “Our interest is making sure that credit unions can service businesses that are legal at [the] state level, either through a safe harbor or a law that recognizes [a] state’s authority to decriminalize the substance.”

The issue runs deeper than the challenge of cash management. Cannabis companies face a variety of obstacles, including in acquiring real estate, in land-title issues and in buying insurance coverage.

“Like any other business on Main Street, they have deposit needs, but also payroll, building supplies, expanding and getting into other lines of business, and payments,” said Rachel Pross, chief risk officer at Maps Credit Union in Salem, Ore., which has been working with cannabis companies since 2014. While companies are banned from using card networks, Maps can allow them to wire money and use online banking and pay with direct deposits.

The Horizons Marijuana Life Sciences ETF HMMJ, -3.04% was flat Monday but has gained 73% to date in 2019. The ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF MJ, -2.88%was down 1% but has gained 34% in 2019. The S&P 500 SPX, -1.50% has gained 14% in 2019, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -1.18% has advanced 10%.

The ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF (MJ) was trading at $33.06 per share on Thursday afternoon, down $1.01 (-2.96%). Year-to-date, MJ has gained 1.65%, versus a 5.97% rise in the benchmark S&P 500 index during the same period.

MJ currently has an ETF Daily News SMART Grade of C (Neutral), and is ranked #56 of 85 ETFs in the Global Equities ETFs category.

This article is brought to you courtesy of MarketWatch .

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