State Regulations On Virtual Currency And Blockchain Technologies

Author:Mr Justin S. Wales and Matthew E. Kohen
Profession:Carlton Fields
 
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INTRODUCTION:

As of this inaugural publication, there exists no uniformity with respect to how businesses that deal in virtual currencies (also known as "cryptocurrencies") such as Bitcoin are treated among the states. For these proprietors, often the first question asked when deciding whether to operate within a state is whether existing state money transmitter rules apply to the sale or exchange of virtual currencies. As you will see from the discussion below, most states have not yet enacted regulations that provides virtual currency operators with any guidance on this question.

Some states have issued guidance, opinion letters, or other information from their financial regulatory agencies regarding whether virtual currencies are "money" under existing state rules, while others have enacted piecemeal legislation amending existing definitions to either specifically include or exclude digital currencies from the definition. To use a pun those in the blockchain space should understand, there is a complete lack of consensus as to whether they do or not.

The few states that have attempted to enact such comprehensive regulations, including New York's much maligned "BitLicense" scheme, has resulted in a retreat by the industry from either perceived overregulation or attempts by the state to treat virtual currency operators identically with traditional money transmitters that are better equipped to deal with a restrictive, and in their case cost prohibitive, regulatory framework.

The authors of this article are hopeful that over the next several years states will begin to craft regulation that balances the dual needs of protecting consumers from businesses operating in the fledgling industry while also promoting continued innovation by not saddling virtual currency businesses with regulatory burdens that make it financially impractical to operate. One attempt to craft such legislation has been proposed by the Uniform Law Commission, which in July 2017 introduced a model Regulation of Virtual Currency Businesses Act. The model legislation has not yet been adopted by any state, and has been subject to both criticism and praise by the industry, but is instructive of the types of considerations legislatures need to address when attempting to regulate the industry, including common sense definitions of "virtual currency" and what type of activity or economic thresholds should be implemented for "virtual currency business activity" so as to not drive away innovation from the state or punish personal or low-stakes use of the technology.

This article attempts to outline the range of regulations or guidance provided by the states with regard to virtual currency regulations or blockchain specific technologies. Because the law is rapidly developing we will try to update it quarterly to address new regulations or case law impacting the industry.

ALABAMA

The Alabama Monetary Transmission Act, approved by Governor Kay Ivey in May 2017, defines "monetary value" as "[a] medium of exchange, including virtual or fiat currencies, whether or not redeemable in money." H.B. 215, 2017 Leg., Reg. Sess. (Ala. 2017) § 8-7A-2(8). The act requires that every person engaging in the business of monetary transmissions obtain a license from the state. Money transmission includes receiving monetary value (including virtual currency) for transmission. H.B. 215, 2017 Leg., Reg. Sess. (Ala. 2017) § 8-7A-2(10). The act exempts banks, bank holding companies, securities-clearing firms, payment and settlement processors, broker-dealers, and government entities.

ALASKA

There are no blockchain or virtual currency specific regulations enacted under Alaskan law. House Bill 180 was introduced in March 2017 but, as of September 2017, appears to be stalled in the state legislature's Labor and Commerce Committee. The bill would regulate money transmission and currency exchange businesses, as well as transmitting value that substitutes for money. H.B. 180, 30th Leg., 1st Sess. (Alaska 2017). The bill's definition of virtual currency covers "digital units of exchange that have a centralized repository" as well as "decentralized, distributive, open-source, math-based, peer-to-peer virtual currency with no central administrating authority and no central monitoring or oversight." If passed, it would also amend the Alaska Uniform Money Services Act to expressly include dealing in virtual currency within its definition of money transmission. H.B. 180, 30th Leg., 1st Sess. (Alaska 2017).

ARIZONA

In 2017, Arizona adopted two statutes related specifically to the storage of information on the blockchain. Arizona Statute § 44-7061 makes signatures, records, and contracts secured through blockchain technology legally valid. "A contract relating to a transaction may not be denied legal effect, validity or enforceability solely because that contract contains a smart contract term." H.B. 2417, 53d Leg., 1st Reg. Sess. (Ariz. 2017).

Arizona Statute § 13-3122 makes it unlawful to require people to use or be subject to electronic firearm tracking technology (including distributed ledger or blockchain technology). H.B. 2216, 53d Leg., 1st Reg. Sess. (Ariz. 2017).

ARKANSAS

There are no blockchain or virtual currency specific regulations enacted or pending in Arkansas at the time of publication.

CALIFORNIA

In August 2017 the state re-introduced Assembly Bill 1123 which proposes to create a Digital Currency Business Enrollment Program that would require all companies that store, transmit, exchange, or issue digital currencies to qualify as a "digital currency business" and pay a non-refundable $5,000 fee to participate in the program." The bill's most recent incarnation scraps a previous, and much criticized, prior proposal by the state's legislature to create a licensure requirement for digital currency businesses similar to New York's BitLicense.

In June, 2016 the California legislature enacted Cal. Stat. § 320.6, which make it unlawful to sell or exchange raffle ticket for any kind of cryptocurrency.

COLORADO

There are no blockchain or virtual currency specific regulations enacted or pending in Colorado at the time of publication.

CONNECTICUT

House Bill 7141 becomes law on October 1, 2017 and requires that anybody engaged in a financial services industry be licensed by the state. "Each licensee that engages in the business of money transmission in this state by receiving, transmitting, storing or maintaining custody or control of virtual currency on behalf of another person shall at all times hold virtual currency of the same type and amount owed or obligated to such other person." The bill defines virtual currency as "any type of digital unit that is used as a medium of exchange or a form of digitally stored value or that is incorporated into payment system technology." H.B. 7141, 2017 Leg., 2017 Jan. Reg. Sess. Gen. Assemb. (Conn. 2017).

DELAWARE

In July 2017 Delaware enacted Senate Bill 69, a groundbreaking piece of legislation that provides statutory authority for Delaware corporations to use networks of electronic databases (including blockchain) to create and maintain corporate records. The law expressly permits corporations to trade corporate stock on the blockchain so long as the stock ledgers serves three functions: (1) to enable the corporation to prepare the list of stockholders, (2) to record information, and (3) to record transfers...

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