From now until August 17, 2019, Missouri entities may apply for a license to cultivate, dispense, manufacture, test, and transport marijuana, pursuant to last year’s passage of Amendment 2, permitting marijuana use for serious medical conditions. A cloudy haze remains, however, over how financial institutions doing business with marijuana-related businesses (“MRBs”) will be governed.
As most are aware, while cannabis is now legal in some form or fashion in more than 30 states as well as D.C., cannabis manufacture and use is still prohibited by federal law. Consequently, handling of proceeds from MRBs is considered money laundering, and financial institutions are required to submit Suspicious Activity Reports (“SARs”) with FinCEN when certain red flags are raised in relation to suspected cannabis business.
The SAFE Banking Act of 2019, H.R. 1595, would provide a safe harbor for financial institutions handling MRB money while the legality of cannabis continues to be debated at the federal level. More specifically, the SAFE Banking Act would prevent federal regulators from interfering with relationships between financial institutions and MRBs in states where cannabis is legal, and it would allow MRBs to access traditional banking services without threat of seizure or prosecution. The bill, if passed, would not change the status of cannabis as a Schedule 1 controlled substance.
In recent weeks, several Missouri credit unions and banks have joined together to urge passage of the SAFE Banking Act, in anticipation of this month’s open application process. Unfortunately, there is not much confidence that it will be passed.
So, how much money are we talking about? Last year, cannabis reportedly generated over $8 billion. The revenues are expected to triple over the next 5 years. Even though Missouri’s share will be a fraction of anticipated revenues, that’s still going to be a whole lot of green. Now, Missouri financial institutions and prospective MRBs will remain in the sticky situation of figuring out what to do with all of it.