Treasurer still working on solution to medical marijuana banking crisis
CHARLESTON — State Treasurer John Perdue plans to join forces with treasurers in at least 10 other states to ask Congress to change federal laws surrounding medical marijuana.
The move is part of Perdue’s plan to try to solve banking problems that are holding up implementation of West Virginia’s fledgling medical marijuana program.
“I support the rights of my fellow West Virginians, and I recognize the need for medical marijuana as an option for people who are suffering,” Perdue said. “I want to do everything in my power to move our state toward a lawful solution; however, I want to be clear that there are real banking challenges at the federal level that my office may not be able to resolve alone.”
In early March, Perdue sent a letter to state officials saying his office would not be able to handle financial transactions related to medical marijuana licensing or other banking functions related to medical marijuana because of conflicts between federal and state law. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law despite being legalized in some form in 30 states.
Perdue said he intended to issue a request for information Monday asking for banking solutions for sales, fees, licenses, taxes and other transactions related to state-sanctioned medical cannabis in West Virginia, and said he intended to send a letter to federal Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin asking for “clear banking guidance” on how to deal with marijuana-related transactions.
“The fact is that the fate of medical marijuana in West Virginia depends on how President Trump’s administration approaches the enforcement of marijuana and banking laws,” Perdue said. “At the very least, I want West Virginia to be treated like all other states that have implemented or started implementation of a medical marijuana program.
“There are a lot of mixed messages on the federal level regarding this issue,” he said. “Congress can fix this, and I am asking for federal changes on behalf of our citizens. If you are passionate about this issue, I encourage you to also contact your congressional leaders and urge them to make changes that allow us to fully and lawfully conduct business in our state.”
The West Virginia Legislature passed a law allowing for the medical use of marijuana in 2017, but implementing the program is at a standstill until a banking solution is found.
“Our hope is to find a banking alternative, similar to other states that have legalized medical marijuana, in an effort to move forward with offering this option to those who need it in West Virginia,” said Perdue. “Once we have more facts, we may be able to solicit for a workable contract on behalf of the state.”
But some lawmakers don’t think the state can wait that long.
“Potential investors have decided to go elsewhere (because of the banking holdup),” said Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, who has been a strong supporter of medical marijuana legislation.
During the 2018 legislative session, the House of Delegates introduced House Bill 4345 to try to fix the banking problems surrounding medical marijuana, but amendments to the bill died on the final night of the 60-day legislative session.
Matt Walker, a lobbyist for medical marijuana consulting and investment firm 4Front Ventures, said continued delays in finding a banking solution for the medical marijuana industry in West Virginia could indeed discourage investors and companies from coming to the state. 4Front has 50 growing, processing and dispensing operations in 15 states, including Pennsylvania, he said.
“They are very interested in coming here,” said Walker. “They’re all over the country. They are one of the larger medical cannabis groups.”
But Walker said 4Front executives are worried they won’t be able to transact business in the state because of the banking problem.
Gov. Jim Justice has already talked about calling a special legislative session for May. Pushkin thinks a solution to the medical marijuana banking problem should be put on the call.
Walker said House Bill 4345 didn’t do a very good job fixing the financing problem for the medical marijuana industry.