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medical marijuana gardenA bill that removes state criminal liability from banks and credit unions that do business with legal pot enterprises was signed Monday by Gov. Kate Brown.

House Bill 4094 removes from state statutes any criminal liability for providing banking services to legal cannabis businesses. The law also directs the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services to study what other potential options may be available for banking services for the legal marijuana industry.

The new law, however, doesn’t address the biggest problem for pot shops when it comes to banking: Marijuana’s prohibition under federal law has kept traditional banking generally off-limits to the industry, even in states where it is legal.

Rep. Tobias Read, D-Beaverton, who sponsored the bill, acknowledged that HB 4094 doesn’t remove liability under federal law. Still, he said he hopes the legislation sends a clear message to federal lawmakers about Oregon’s position on the issue.

“It makes no sense to say these businesses are legal on one hand and simultaneously on the other hand say that legal businesses don’t have access to banking services,” Read said. “In the end, having an entire segment of the economy — and a growing one at that — based on cash is not good for anybody.”

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Vince Sliwoski, a Portland lawyer who specializes in cannabis law, called Oregon’s bill “helpful but mostly symbolic.”

“It doesn’t do anything to ease up the federal restrictions on banks,” he said.

He said marijuana businesses either work in cash or open bank accounts without the bank knowing the nature of their work. He said a few clients recently told him a national bank opened accounts for them knowing they work with marijuana; he declined to say which bank out of fear the institution would take action to close the accounts.

Lynn Heider, a spokeswoman for the Northwest Credit Union Association, said the law is “an important first step” but that federal legislation is still needed.

She pointed to 2014 federal guidance issued to the banking industry that creates “unreasonable layers of due diligence, reporting and compliance steps” for banks doing business with the legal marijuana industry.

“Unless Congress passes a law removing the criminal liability for financial institutions, our concern is that the regulatory environment may prevent many from serving marijuana businesses,” Heider wrote in an email to The Oregonian/OregonLive.

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