- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2018

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell encouraged Congress to clarify the government’s marijuana laws on Wednesday as financial obstacles abound for cannabis businesses in states that permit the plant.

Mr. Powell made the remarks at a press conference following the Fed’s policy meeting Wednesday in light of recent efforts on Capitol Hill aimed at letting banks work with marijuana businesses in states that have legalized the plant despite its status as a federally banned controlled substance.

“We have state law, many state laws permit the use of marijuana, but federal law doesn’t, so that puts federally chartered banks in a difficult situation,” Mr. Powell told reporters. “I think it would be great if that could be clarified.”

“Our mandate doesn’t have anything to do with marijuana, but we’d just like to see it clarified,” added Mr. Powell, a former member of the central bank’s Board of Governors nominated to chairman by President Trump.

Twenty-nine states and D.C. have passed laws letting doctors recommend medical marijuana to patients, and nine states and the nation’s capital have recreational marijuana laws in place permitting personal use, including six where the plant can be purchased from state-licensed and regulated retail dispensaries.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, however, creating problems for cannabis businesses in legal-weed states wishing to work with financial institutions authorized by Uncle Sam.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin previously addressed the problems posed by federal prohibition while testifying before a House committee in February.

“We do want to find a solution to make sure that businesses that have large access to cash have a way to get them into a depository institution for it to be safe,” said Mr. Mnuchin.

Mr. Trump, for his part, said last week that he supports bipartisan legislation that would let states allow legal marijuana sales without risking federal interference.

On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday rejected the Safe Banking Amendment, a bipartisan-supported measure that would have prohibited regulators from using federal funds to target banks that decide to do business with legal cannabis establishments like dispensaries and growers.

“Currently, hundreds of state-legal, licensed and regulated businesses do not have access to the banking industry and are unable to accept credit cards, deposit revenues, or write checks to meet payroll or pay taxes,” said Justin Strekal, the political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML.

“This situation is untenable. No industry can operate safely, transparently or effectively without access to banks or other financial institutions. Congress must move to change federal policy so that these growing number of state-compliant businesses, and their consumers, may operate in a manner that is similar to other legal commercial entities,” he wrote in a blog post Thursday.

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