California Attempts to Address Public Safety with Cannabis Banking Legislation

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

I have previously written about the public safety concerns resulting from the lack of banking in the cannabis industry.  As I noted in that article, the elimination of the Cole Priorities in January 2018 has left federally-regulated banks wondering how they can follow FinCen’s guidance for banking cannabis issued in February 2014, which was explicitly dependent on the Cole Priorities.

While the Cole Priorities were in place, that guidance provided a clear path for banking cannabis industry participants adhering to the Cole Priorities.  FinCen’s guidance is still in place, and banking cannabis is still possible, but confusion about how to do so without the Cole Priorities as guideposts has caused greater reluctance on the part of banks.

Enter proposed legislation in California, SB-930,  which passed in the California Senate yesterday.  Not a complete solution to the banking problem by a long shot, but progress nonetheless.  If it becomes law SB-930, would result in the establishment of a California-chartered bank that would permit California cannabis industry participants to deposit the proceeds of their state-lawful cannabis activities, and would provide to them limited banking services that would allow for payment of taxes and vendors by check.

As reported in the Sacramento Business Journal, the Bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), characterized SB-930 as an attempt alleviate the public safety concerns resulting from the federal government’s current hands off approach to banking cannabis.  As Herzog stated, “It’s not only impractical from an accounting perspective, but it also presents a tremendous public safety problem. This bill takes a limited approach to provide all parties with a safe and reliable way to move forward on this urgent issue.”