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Janet Yellen

Lawmakers press Treasury for ‘red flag’ cannabis reform

Democrats are urging the Treasury Department to revise “out-of-date guidance” related to state-legal marijuana businesses and the Bank Secrecy Act, according to a letter obtained by Punchbowl News.

In the letter sent to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Financial Crimes Enforcement Network Director Andrea Gacki Tuesday, lawmakers argued that guidelines published in 2014 predate “action by many states to legalize marijuana possession and sales” and must be updated.

That disconnect has resulted in years of unwarranted “red-flagging,” where financial institutions working with legal cannabis companies must conduct significant compliance work for state-legal cannabis companies. That has often included filing suspicious activity reports, or SARs.

“The updated guidance should clarify that if a marijuana-related act has been expunged, pardoned, is no longer illegal under state law, or is not disqualifying for obtaining a state marijuana license or permit,” the lawmakers wrote, “then financial institutions should not consider that offense a ‘red flag’ when conducting customer due diligence of marijuana businesses.”

Read the full letter here, which was led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Other signers include Sens. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and others.

The group is also focused on limiting the legal impacts of non-violent convictions that predate state-level legalization. Democrats argue that the existing guidance “disproportionately harms Black- and Brown-owned businesses, whose owners are more likely to have a marijuana-related conviction, though they are not more likely to have violated marijuana use laws.”

— Brendan Pedersen

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