Oklahoma’s Mike Hunter has joined 32 other state attorneys general in urging Congress to allow the legal marijuana industry to be part of the American banking system.
Forty states have legalized marijuana in some fashion or decriminalized its possession. Oklahoma’s permissive medical marijuana bill — the result of last year’s overwhelming passage of State Question 788 — has opened the door to pot commerce throughout the state, but it remains a Schedule 1 drug on par with heroin and LSD in the eyes of the federal government.
With federal regulators looking over their shoulders, banks won’t do business with marijuana dispensaries in Oklahoma or anywhere else in the nation.
That makes the dispensaries a management and bureaucratic nightmare: cash-only businesses with no access to credit, no place to deposit their sales, not even the ability to write a check to pay state taxes.
In the antiquated name of the war on drugs, an $8.3 billion chunk of the U.S. economy has been frozen out of the financial sector, creating more public safety issues than it prevents. Rules meant to fight illegal drug trafficking are making targets of businesses that operate legally and with the blessings of the citizens.
The Associated Press reports that legislation pending in Congress would allow pot businesses to access loans, lines of credit and other banking services, while sheltering financial institutions from prosecution for handling pot-linked money.
The attorneys general argue that the current law creates an underground economy that is unable to track potential financial crimes.
Frankly, there’s no scientific or public safety reason to continue classifying marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug.
Congress should force the DEA to reclassify the drug to reflect contemporary standards. If nearly 57% of the voters in Oklahoma are ready for State Question 788, surely Congress can recognize that the drug doesn’t belong on federal law enforcement’s list of the most dangerous drugs.
But, failing that, Congress should remove barriers to legal marijuana banking in the name of good sense and public safety.