33 state attorneys general urging Congress to solve marijuana banking mess – but not FL AG Ashley Moody

marijuana plant
Marijuana plant

(UPDATED)

A bipartisan group of 33 state attorneys general sent a letter to congressional leaders on Wednesday, urging them to pass legislation to allow states that legalized marijuana to bring that commerce into the banking system. But Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody is not among them.

Even though dozens of states – including Florida – have legalized marijuana for medical or adult recreational use, banks providing services to state-licensed cannabis businesses are still subject to criminal and civil liability under the federal Controlled Substances Act and other federal banking statutes. That’s because the federal government still classifies pot as an illegal substance.

Shortly after this story was published, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Moody responded.

“It is unfortunate that businesses operating legally in Florida are unable to open bank accounts and are being forced to rely only on cash transactions,” said spokeswoman Lauren Schenone in a statement. “Our office is currently reviewing the legal implications of this request.”

The attorneys general letter calls on Congress to support the SAFE Banking Act or similar legislation that would provide a “safe harbor” for financial institutions that provide products and/or services to businesses in states with legal medical or recreational marijuana.

The SAFE Act has 175 Congressional co-sponsors, including nine from Florida: Democratic U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Al Lawson, Darren Soto, Ted Deutch, Alcee Hastings and Stephanie Murphy. U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz and Greg Steube are the two Republican sponsors from the Sunshine State.

“An effective safe harbor would bring billions of dollars into the banking sector, enabling law enforcement; federal, state and local tax agencies; and cannabis regulators in 33 states and several territories to more effectively monitor cannabis businesses and their transactions,” the attorneys general write. “Compliance with tax laws and requirements would be simpler and easier to enforce with the regulated tracking of funds in the banking system, resulting in higher tax revenue.”

Many marijuana businesses deal in cash because of the banking prohibitions, making it more difficult for states to track the revenue.

Nikki Fried, now Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, is a former lobbyist for the medical marijuana industry. Her official campaign accounts were canceled twice last summer while running for the Ag Commissioner post – by both Wells Fargo and BB&T.

“While BB&T has no position on the issue of marijuana or the ongoing discussion regarding its legalization, we must continue to abide by all applicable laws and regulations as a federally-regulated financial institution,” a BB&T spokesman told the Tampa Bay Times after the bank terminated Fried’s account.

While Moody opted not to sign the letter to Congress, another member of the Florida Cabinet, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, did issue a statement in March. He called on Congress to “step up and immediately approve legislation which will increase options for our country’s marijuana businesses.”

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