Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler

Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler

Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler is asking the federal government to assure banks that work with legal marijuana businesses they won’t be penalized.

Earlier this week, Wheeler wrote a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

On Tuesday he told OPB’s Morning Edition he was concerned about the ability of legitimate pot businesses to open bank accounts after the state’s legal retail industry gets underway.

“I am respectfully calling on the U.S. Treasury Department to issue new guidance that basically give banks the assurance they need to accept legal marijuana customers without putting their charters in jeopardy or diminishing their access to Federal Deposit Insurance or otherwise imperiling their relationships with federal banking regulators,” Wheeler said.

Without banking,  pot businesses could be operating all-cash enterprises, which Wheeler said puts the industry at risk both in terms of accountability and public safety.

“This is a significant issue,” Wheeler said. “Obviously not just for the state of Oregon. It’s significant for other states that have a legalized and regulated marijuana market as well.”

Last April, the only Oregon bank to open accounts for pot businesses got out of the business.

“They got out of it when they saw these regulations were going to be costly, onerous, with potentially unlimited liability for them,” Wheeler said during the interview.

In July, Oregon becomes the fourth state to allow residents to possess recreational marijuana.