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Shapiro, other AGs urge reform of banking laws for medical marijuana

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An effort to roll back Obama-era guidelines on the medical marijuana industry has spurred efforts in Washington, D.C., to address the issue once and for all.

Bills have been introduced periodically to loosen marijuana regulations at the federal level, but new efforts have been pushed since Attorney General Jeff Sessions released guidelines early in January that could lead to a crackdown on the new industry.

Marijuana Business Daily reported Jan. 16 that 19 attorneys general sent a letter to Congressional leaders urging them to pass legislation that would allow banks to do business with marijuana-based businesses in states that have legalized use of the drug.

The letter was signed by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, as well as his counterparts in Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington state, the District of Columbia and U.S. territory Guam.

"We are a bipartisan group of state attorneys general who recognize that the states and federal government share a strong interest in protecting public safety and bringing grey market activities into the regulated banking sector," the letter states. "To address these goals, we urge Congress to advance legislation that would allow states that have legalized medical or recreational use of marijuana to bring that commerce into the banking system."

The letter points out that 29 states and several territories have legalized some form of marijuana use and that sales could reach $20 billion by 2021.

"However, because the federal government classifies marijuana as an illegal substance, banks providing services to state-licensed cannabis businesses could find themselves subject to criminal and civil liability under the Controlled Substances Act and certain federal banking statutes," the letter says. "This risk has significantly inhibited the willingness of financial institutions to provide services to these businesses."

The letter suggests that legislation provide a "safe harbor" for institutions to provide services to the industry.

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