State Senate unanimously OKs bill to open up banking services for pot firms

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Illinois marijuana dispensaries sold over $44 million of recreational cannabis in May.

Medical cannabis sales in Illinois totaled more than $136 million in 2018. | AP file photo

File photo

The Illinois Senate unanimously approved a bill Thursday that would change rules prohibiting banks from serving the businesses that make up the state’s $136 million legal weed industry.

Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs has championed the bill, which would bar the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation from going after banks and credit unions that serve cannabis-related businesses, according to a statement from the treasurer’s office.

As a result, the measure would allow pot firms to take advantage of banking services and start writing checks, depositing cash and taking out loans.

“We are one step closer to preventing state banking regulators from penalizing banks or credit unions for allowing legal cannabis businesses to manage their financial transactions like every other legitimate business in the state,” Frerichs said. “These legitimate business owners should not have to operate underground on a cash-only basis and make themselves vulnerable to crime, fraud, and tax evasion.”

The bill, which was approved by all 50 state senators, will now be sent to the Illinois House.

Jason Erkes, chief communications officer of leading Chicago cannabis company Cresco Labs, said Thursday’s vote was a “big step” in normalizing and professionalizing the industry.

“We commend the Illinois Senate for their unanimous support and look forward to this becoming law in Illinois,” Erkes said. “While most businesses and industries are going cashless, the cannabis industry still can’t utilize normal services like business accounts, credit cards or lines of credit.”

While marijuana has been legalized in a growing number of states — for medical use, recreational use or both — the drug is still considered a controlled substance by the feds, making it illegal for banks to do business with the cannabis industry.

However, bipartisan legislation introduced Thursday in both houses of the U.S. Congress would amend the Controlled Substances Act to protect people and businesses complying with state pot laws from federal prosecution.

“We hope the passing of this [banking] act and others that are being debated on a federal level will allow our industry to operate with the same financial services as every grocery store, pharmacy and local tavern,” Erkes said.

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