Gov. Jared Polis and the Department of Regulatory Agencies on Feb. 3 unveiled a cannabis roadmap aimed at increasing the number of financial institutions serving the industry.
The seven-point plan includes establishing a working group, increasing transparency, working with cannabis trade associations, encouraging new technology and providing regulatory guidance to state-chartered banks. The cannabis roadmap also calls for a review of chartering and licensing requirements for financial institutions and money transmitters and, finally, puts pressure on Congress for a federal fix.
“The seven primary areas of focus are totally on point,” said Christian Sederberg, founding partner of Denver-based cannabis law firm Vicente Sederberg. He praised the plan for focusing on the positives that can come from the emerging marijuana industry, rather than treating it like a problem that requires harm reduction.
“The big picture, when I read this [roadmap], is the governor trying to create some comfort among banking clients like ours,” said Tom Downey, a director at Ireland Stapleton Pryor & Pascoe who represents marijuana businesses as well as financial institutions that serve them.
“This is the governor taking advantage of the bully pulpit and showing some leadership,” Downey said, which is “as much as the state can do” since most banking is regulated at the federal level.
The state-led strategy comes as federal legislation on banking access for cannabis companies faces an uncertain future in Congress. The SAFE Banking Act, which would prohibit federal regulators from penalizing banks for working with marijuana-related businesses, passed with bipartisan support in the U.S. House of Representatives in September but is likely to see fiercer opposition in the Senate. The Polis plan offers support for the legislation through letters to Congress and cooperation with Colorado’s federal lawmakers.