For 22 years, the Marijuana Policy Project—the nonprofit advocacy organization that lobbies to eliminate criminal punishments for cannabis consumption—has conducted its banking with the PNC Financial Services Group. This decades-long relationship was abruptly severed yesterday, when the PNC Bank notified the Marijuana Policy Project that all its accounts were officially closed.
Key fact: the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) does not grow or distribute cannabis—an important distinction for federally regulated banks doing business with advocacy groups like the MPP—and Mason Tvert, MPP’s communications director, told Leafly this morning that he’s unsure why it took so long for PNC to decide and drop MPP. “Nothing has really changed over the past several years from our organization.”
As MPP chief operating officer Nick Field told the Washington Post, a PNC Bank representative alerted him in May that the organization’s accounts would be permanently closed on July 7, due to an audit that revealed the MPP received funding from marijuana businesses that handle the plant directly. “They told me it is too risky,” said Field. “The bank can’t assume the risk.” (For the most part, major banks in states with legalized cannabis refrain from doing business with cannabis companies, with banks worrying that cannabis’ federal prohibition might result in banks losing federal funds.)
But as MPP’s Mason Tvert told Leafly, yesterday’s news just confirms that Congress needs to move forward with the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (SAFE Banking Act), which would allow banks to serve marijuana-related businesses without fear of penalties from the federal government.
“The regulated marijuana industry is growing, and the banking industry is accommodating it more and more but there is still a need for change through Congress,” said Tvert. “The legislation of the SAFE Act is picking up co-sponsors consistently, but it has yet to pass, and we need that type of legislation to pass to avoid situations like we’re in now.”
As for what the Marijuana Policy Project will do now, Tvert says they’ll find a new bank or credit union. “We will do what all these other businesses, and other ancillary entities that get caught up in this and we will have to find another bank.”