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No hurdle so far for medical marijuana banking bill in Senate

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Senate Judiciary Committee breezed through approval of the medical cannabis program banking bill in a matter of minutes Friday morning.

Mike Romano

Sen. Mike Romano. D-Harrison, provided the only commentary, saying Judiciary did the “yeoman’s share” of the work shaping this bill last year. He asked committee counsel Tom Smith if there were any issues with the bill and Smith said that the House worked it extensively in cooperation with the state treasurer’s office to make sure it’s rock solid.

Romano said, “The world is changing. If we don’t get out in front of it, the world will pass us by.”

It passed in a voice vote, with Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, voicing the only no. Azinger vociferously opposed passage of the original medical cannabis program bill in 2017, saying it’s federally illegal and could open the door for recreational marijuana and drug abuse.

Other than voting no, he said nothing this time.

The committee made no changes to the bill, HB 2538, that came over from the House. It goes to the full Senate for passage next week. If unamended on the Senate floor, it will go to the governor.

Recapping how the bill works: It creates two state funds. The primary one is the Medical Cannabis Program Fund designed to receive license fees, penalties and taxes associated with the program.

The other is the Treasurer’s Medical Cannabis Fund created to receive all oversight and compliance fees charged to the chosen financial institution by the treasurer and to be spent on oversight and compliance expenses.

The treasurer will select by competitive bid one or more financial institutions to handle banking services for the fees, penalties and taxes collected from growers, processors and dispensers under the program. The institution may be a bank, credit union or a “non-bank financial institution.”

Once federal law changes and it becomes legal for banks to handle program money, the contract or contracts will end and the money will be transferred to the institution holding the state concentration account, meaning the single account it uses to write checks.

As legislators previously learned, the bank holding the state’s checking account, BB&T, won’t handle cannabis money. Other institutions have expressed interest but won’t step up. So this bill is an effort to stir the interest of credit unions to bid on a contract.

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