EASTLAKE, Ohio — Since 2019, it has become a nearly billion dollar business in Ohio. However, experts told News 5 that medical marijuana still faces a stigma that’s stunted the industry’s growth by restricting how it is able to utilize banks and financial institutions.
Current federal law dictates that financial companies working with medical cannabis facilities could be prosecuted.
Andy Rayburn, CEO of Buckeye Relief in Eastlake and President of the Ohio Medical Cannabis Industry Association, told News 5 that banking remains the largest challenge for cannabis companies in the state.
Rayburn told News 5 that meant he could only use a state-chartered bank and anything past a checking or savings account remained essentially out of reach. He said that includes loans and access to private capital.
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“There’s a lot of people that still remember this as an illegal industry,” he explained. “We pay massive fees to that state every year to fund the regulation of the industry. The same goal is to just be treated like regular businesses.”
However, a bill, named the Safe Banking Act, would clear the way for these kinds of companies to handle their finances just like everyone else.
Over the past decade or so, the Safe Banking Act passed seven times in the U.S. House of Representatives, including most recently just last month.
However, it has not passed in the Senate.
Republican Representative Dave Joyce, whose district includes much of Northeast Ohio, serves as a cosponsor on the bill and released the following statement:
“Under current federal law, any institutions providing financial services to medical cannabis businesses operating legally across the Buckeye State are subject to criminal prosecution. Credit card companies won’t process transactions from legitimate medical dispensaries and most banks won’t provide these state-legal businesses loans or allow them to open accounts. This forces businesses to operate in all cash, making them and their employees sitting ducks for violent robberies. Thankfully, the SAFE Banking Act has the bipartisan consensus necessary to immediately become law. I urge Senator Schumer to bring this bill to the floor and call on my colleagues in the Senate to support it when it comes before them for a vote. Until then, the federal government’s status quo will continue to endanger public safety, cripple up-and-coming small businesses, and refuse states’ rights to implement their own laws.”
Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown serves as chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee where the banking bill currently sits.
Senator Brown released the following statement:
“The legal cannabis industry is one of the fastest growing in the U.S and it employs thousands of workers and creates union jobs. Senator Brown also recognizes that we need to address the damage the war on drugs has had on individuals and families, especially in Black and brown communities. It’s contributed to economic hardships, health disparities, and family separations. There’s a lot more work to be done to undo and redress that damage, and make sure communities that have suffered are included in the economic opportunities that come with the cannabis industry.”
At Buckeye Relief, Rayburn told News 5 the facility plans to double in size over the next couple of years.
“We’re about two years ahead of the pace we thought we were going to achieve,” he said.
However, if this legislation were to become law, their growth in Northeast Ohio could increase at a much faster rate.
As for the possibility of legalizing recreational marijuana, a statewide vote could happen as soon as next year.
News 5 also reached out to Ohio Senator Rob Portman about the bill and is still awaiting a response as of August 1st.