Taryn Marcus weighs hemp branches to determine the price at the first public pick-your-own hemp day at Sheepscot Farm in Whitefield on Sept. 25. The farm lost its insurance and banking services soon after because of ambiguity in the federal laws surrounding hemp. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Sen. Angus King is pushing for passage of legislation that would give legal hemp and cannabis businesses access to financial services that many banks are now reluctant to provide without more guidance from regulators.

The Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act would provide access to traditional banking for cannabis-related businesses, which remain cut off from most financial and insurance services.

“Hemp businesses in Maine face banking access issues that threaten the viability of their operations,” King wrote in a letter sent Friday to the chair of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. “They need our help.”

The House of Representatives has already passed the bill and King is a co-sponsor on the Senate version.

His letter Friday follows a Portland Press Herald article describing the challenges faced by Taryn and Ben Marcus, two Maine farmers who lost their bank account and insurance coverage after deciding to grow hemp, a variety of cannabis often used to make rope or fabric that contains almost no THC, the ingredient in marijuana that gets a user high.

Congress legalized hemp in December and the U.S. Department of Agriculture finalized regulations last month.

However, banking regulators have offered little guidance on how to ensure hemp and marijuana businesses are following federal law, making many banks and insurance carriers reluctant to work with them.

Many fear their institutions could face drug-trafficking or money-laundering charges, King said.

The SAFE Banking Act would prevent regulators from:

• Prohibiting or penalizing a bank from providing financial services to a legitimate state-sanctioned and regulated hemp or cannabis business.

• Terminating or limiting a bank’s federal deposit insurance solely because the bank is providing services to these businesses.

• Recommending or incentivizing a bank to stop providing any kind of banking to hemp or cannabis businesses, or to reduce those services.

• Taking action on a loan to an owner or operator of a hemp or cannabis-related businesses.

It also creates a safe harbor from criminal prosecution and liability and asset forfeiture for banks and their employees who provide financial services to legitimate hemp or cannabis businesses, while maintaining the rights of banks to choose not to offer those services.

In his letter, King said the legislation would help make communities safer by reducing the need for businesses to keep large amounts of cash  on hand because they wouldn’t be able to use the banking system.

“We owe hardworking owners of legal small businesses like Taryn and Ben Marcus the opportunity to protect their investments and to obtain financing that all other small business people have,” he wrote.

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