Tuesday, April 23, 2019 | 2 a.m.
U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen has long positioned herself as a friend to marijuana businesses, pushing legislation such the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act in the past as a member of the House of Representatives.
It’s a trend the Nevada Democrat is continuing in her first term in the Senate. She has signed on to a bill that would allow cannabis businesses in states with legalized marijuana to access banking.
At a roundtable Monday at the Writer’s Block bookstore, she heard concerns from members of the marijuana industry in Nevada about access to banking services and other business issues.
“(I learned) how important it is to people, how passionate they are about growing their business, about wanting to stay here, wanting to operate in a safe way,” she said.
Banks are generally wary of accepting money from marijuana-based businesses due to federal law. Money made from marijuana is considered by the federal government to be illicit, and banks technically run the risk of being accused of money laundering if they accept money from the industry. This has led marijuana businesses to turn to cash as an alternative, an outcome that critics say opens the businesses up to increased chances of danger, such as robbery.
Banking reform for these businesses, Rosen said, is necessary for them to operate in a comfortable manner. The bill she’s signed on to, the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Act, would do that, she said. “We have to do everything we can to make sure our legislation catches up to the way our lifestyles are,” she said.
The act has begun to move forward in the House of Representatives, passing the Committee on Financial Services in March. Rosen was cautiously optimistic about its chances in the Senate, where the bipartisan legislation has more than 20 co-sponsors.
“With 160 sponsors, already … in the House, I think if they bring it to the floor and it passes, it probably will pass overwhelmingly and we already have nearly 25 in the Senate,” she said, adding that what she learned at the roundtable may come in handy in lobbying legislators to create a safer banking system.
“So many states have medical marijuana that I think we’ve started to hit a tipping point in people understanding the marijuana issues and some of the challenges that businesses have to grow,” she said. “They’re good businesses, they employ a lot of people, and they need to have the same access to banking … as everybody else.”
Rosen and her staff were not as optimistic about another marijuana-centered bill. The Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act would essentially remove federal prosecution if marijuana users, producers and sellers are adhering to state law.
“At this point, there doesn’t seem to be a path forward with a Republican-controlled Senate, or this administration,” said Grant Dubler, a legislative aide to Rosen.
State efforts to combat the banking issue have essentially died on the vine. Senate Bill 437 would have allowed the formation of marijuana banks and credit unions, but it failed to clear the last legislative deadline.
Chris Giunchigliani, a member of Gov. Steve Sisolak's advisory panel for the creation of a Cannabis Compliance Board, said in the past that the panel could not find a way to fix the issue without running afoul of federal law.