Cannabis banking

Alaska’s marijuana industry and the administration of Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy haven’t seen eye-to-eye on many things so far, but they can at least agree on one thing: That a cash-based marijuana industry is a bad idea and needs to change.

In conjunction with the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association’s lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson put his signature on a letter calling for passage of the federal Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act. The SAFE Banking Act would lift federal rules and give marijuana-related businesses broad access to banking and other financial institutions.

Clarkson was one of 38 attorneys general from states and territories, including Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands, to support the legislation.

Department of Law spokeswoman Cori Mills explained the decision:

“Regardless of your policy stance on the legalization of marijuana, it is legal in Alaska under an initiative passed by the voters in 2014. Not having banking options available has made these marijuana businesses have to operate on a cash basis, which presents a very real public safety danger,” she said.

“It impairs our ability to diminish the black market by fully legitimizing businesses that are state-law compliant, makes it harder to verify whether activities are lawful under state law, and makes marijuana businesses a target for theft,” she added. “The federal government needs to recognize the reality of legal marijuana and give states and businesses the ability to safely operate and regulate this new industry.”

Clarkson’s decision to sign the letter came as a pleasant surprise for AMIA Board President Brandon Emmett, who has firsthand experience with the administration’s position on marijuana. He served on the Alaska Marijuana Control Board before being replaced in favor of anti-marijuana campaigner Vivian Stiver. Stiver’s appointment was rejected by the Legislature, leaving the position vacant.

“The industry association has had an uneasy relationship with this administration, but there has been dialogue both ways and we have urged this administration to sign on to the SAFE Banking Act,” he said. “We were not anticipating their support, but we were happy to see that the current administration is realizing that there is a need for marijuana businesses to participate in banking.”

Emmett said what many in the industry have been saying since the early days of commercialization: Carrying large amounts of cash around is dangerous for everyone involved.

“One thing that the Dunleavy administration said is they were going to get tough on crime and Alaska was no longer open for business for criminals,” he said. “And I think reducing the opportunities for cash to be stolen is a way to do that.”

Alaska’s congressional delegation has been supportive of the marijuana industry and all three members have signed on to support the various versions of the SAFE Banking Act.

Matt Buxton is a freelance writer in Anchorage. Comments about this story? Email editor@AlaskaCannabist.com.

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