U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden Says He Hopes for Cannabis Banking Reform Bill Before August Congressional Recess

Weed is a big industry, but federal prohibition leaves operators in danger and without banking resources or fair tax treatment.

MOURNING: Jina Yoo's employee and best friend Michael Arthur was killed in a robbery of her North Portland cannabis shop. (Wesley Lapointe)

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) told WW today that he, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) hope to have a cannabis reform bill in the works by the time the Senate goes on recess around Aug. 8.

“You have people walking around with wheelbarrows full of cash,” Wyden says in a July 4 interview. “That’s just a magnet for criminal activity.”

As WW reported last year, armed robbers have targeted cannabis dispensaries because in addition to large amounts of product, those businesses hold large amounts of cash because federal laws deprive them of most banking services, such as loans and business checking accounts.

Related: For Nearly a Year, Teenagers Have Been Robbing Portland Dispensaries. Then Somebody Shot a Budtender

On June 14, Paul Rosenbaum, chairman of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission, wrote a letter beseeching Wyden, who chairs the Senate Committee on Finance, to use his position to help move Congress toward recognition of the cannabis industry’s plight.

“Cannabis banking should be a priority,” Rosenbaum wrote. “Enough states are engaged in some form of legalization that this should be an immediate national priority, not just a priority for our state.”

Wyden says he agrees with that sentiment and he also wants to focus on Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code, which prohibits cannabis businesses from deducting many of the normal costs of operating, such as salaries, rent and utilities (they can deduct the acquisition cost of the product they sell). That’s different from other legal businesses, which deduct such costs from revenues before paying taxes.

Wyden says current federal treatment of the cannabis industry is “out of whack.”

“Millions of Americans have voted for legalization,” he says. “Oregonians already voted to join the 21st century. I’m going to try and get the rest of the Congress to catch up with us.”

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