The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

ASA Government Affairs Director Caren Woodson 510-388-0546 or ASA Media Liaison Kris Hermes 510-681-6361

Congress Tries to Stop Denial of Banking Services to Medical Marijuana Providers

Letter sent Friday by 15 Members of Congress to Treasury Secretary Geithner


- Fifteen Members of Congress sent a
letter Friday to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner urging him to
issue "written guidance for financial institutions," which would commit
the Department to not targeting those institutions whose account
holders are in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. The
patient advocate group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) has received
dozens of reports over the past couple of years from medical marijuana
providers in California, Colorado and other states who have either been
denied financial services or had their existing bank accounts
terminated with little-to-no justification.

"[I]t seems clear that legitimate state-legal businesses are being
denied access to banking services, which does not serve the public
interest," stated the letter authored by Colorado Congressman Jared
Polis (D-CO), who ASA has been working with to bring this issue to the
attention of Treasury. The Congressional letter, which was co-signed by
Representatives from Arizona, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey,
New York, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin, asserted that the denial of
financial services produces "an increased risk to public safety with
potential theft or robbery that any cash-only or cash-reliant business
faces," and is "an affront to fundamental fairness."

Some federal prosecutions of medical marijuana cases have included the
charge of "money laundering," which according to the government simply
means depositing proceeds from a dispensary into a bank account.
However, multiple states now expect medical marijuana dispensaries (and
by extension, patients) to pay sales tax. "While financial institutions
may have valid concerns," said ASA Government Affairs Director Caren
Woodson. "The risk to banks is minimal, whereas their refusal to work
with state-compliant medical marijuana providers jeopardizes countless
people and delegitimizes lawful businesses."

ASA has received reports over the past two years that financial
institutions such as Bank of America, US Bank, Wells Fargo and Chase
have either refused to work with medical marijuana suppliers altogether
or more specifically refused to provide credit card transaction
services. Gary Kishner, a spokesperson for Chase, told Boulder Weekly
that Chase refuses to do business with dispensaries due to "financial
operational and compliance risk," but Kishner was unable to explain
what that meant. ASA estimates that this widespread financial
obstruction has directly impacted hundreds of dispensaries
in multiple states.

In October 2009, the Justice Department issued its own guidance on
enforcement of marijuana laws in medical marijuana states. However,
this shift in policy has appeared insufficient for quelling fears in
the banking industry. "Americans for Safe Access is working with
Congress to obtain a Treasury policy similar to that of the DOJ,"
continued Woodson. "We appreciate the leadership of Representative
Polis and others as we attempt to remove federal obstacles from the
implementation of safe access to medical marijuana at the local and
state levels."

Further Information:

Congressional letter to Treasury Secretary Geithner:

Attorney General Eric Holder's recent statements before Congress:
October 2009 DOJ directive:

Americans for Safe Access is the nation's largest organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research.