Banks are taking on Attorney General Jeff Sessions over pot with a lobbying push to loosen federal restrictions on the surging legalized marijuana industry, Politico reports. Emboldened by support from both President Trump and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), 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, former head of Independent Community Bankers of America. Jerome Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve, is pushing for action on the issue. “This is a very difficult area,” Powell said last 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. They back 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 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. An American Bankers Association spokesman said, “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.” The ABA’s membership includes thousands of large and small banks. The Independent Community Bankers of America, which represents small lenders, went a step further by endorsing a pot banking bill that would restrict federal regulators from penalizing banks that provide services to marijuana businesses.