Banks take on Sessions over legalized pot


The nation’s banks are taking on Attorney General Jeff Sessions over pot with a big lobbying push to loosen federal restrictions on the surging legalized marijuana industry.

Emboldened by support from both President Donald Trump and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) two relentless foes on most other issues top banking trade groups are pressing policymakers to make it easier for their members to serve cannabis businesses that are now legal in states like California and Colorado.

“If we’re not at a turning point, we’re very close to it,” said Cam Fine, the former head of the Independent Community Bankers of America trade association.

Even Jerome Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve, is pushing for action on the issue.

“This is a very difficult area,” Powell said during a press conference this week. “It puts federally chartered banks in a very difficult situation. It would be great if that could be clarified.”

Lenders see the potential for lucrative business in working with the industry. So they’re backing proposals that would address conflicts between a growing number of permissive state laws and the longstanding federal ban on the sale of marijuana that has chilled banks’ appetite to offer accounts to pot-related businesses.

The unresolved legal questions have been heightened by Sessions’ public campaign against legalizing marijuana. That’s left many banks on the sidelines and forced pot businesses to carry out transactions in cash, making them a target for theft and violence.

The American Bankers Association believes “the time has come for Congress and the regulatory agencies to provide greater legal clarity to banks operating in states where marijuana has been legalized for medical or adult use,” a spokesman said.

“Those banks, including institutions that have no interest in directly banking marijuana-related businesses, face rising legal and regulatory risks, and ever increasing ambiguity and uncertainty, as the marijuana industry grows,” the spokesman said. The ABA’s membership includes thousands of large and small banks.

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