Two Colorado Congressmen Ask Senate to Block Marijuana Banking

Colorado Congressman Ken Buck at a public meeting in Phillips County.
Colorado Congressman Ken Buck at a public meeting in Phillips County.
Two Colorado members of the U.S. House of Representatives, along with ten other members of the House, have once again announced their opposition to federal banking reform for state-legal marijuana businesses. But since they've already cast their votes on the matter in the House, they're looking to the Senate for help.

Less than a month after a group of representatives led by Congressman Ed Perlmutter, a Democrat from Colorado, sent a letter to Senate Banking Committee chairman Mike Crapo, urging him to advance Perlmutter's successful House legislation that would protect banks serving marijuana businesses, another group of House members sent Crapo a letter with a starkly different stance on the bill, the SAFE Banking Act.

Ken Buck and Doug Lamborn, along with ten other Republican House members who voted against SAFE last September, sent a letter to Senator Crapo on February 13, thanking the Idaho Republican for taking his time on the SAFE Banking Act while stating their worries about marijuana legalization's impact on public health and safety. Also signing the letter were representatives Ted Budd (North Carolina), Hal Rogers (Kentucky), Robert Aderholt (Alabama), Mark Meadows (North Carolina). Paul A. Gosar (Arizona), David Rouzer (North Carolina), Andy Biggs (Arizona), Debbie Lesko (Arizona), Dan Bishop (North Carolina) and Andy Harris (Maryland).

Of the representatives who signed the letter, Buck and Lamborn were the only two who serve a state with legal recreational marijuana.

Approximately 47 states have legalized some form of medical or recreational marijuana, but the majority of banks and financial institutions are still concerned that they'll be hit with federal trafficking charges for serving state-legal pot businesses, because the plant and its derivatives are still considered Schedule I substances by the Drug Enforcement Administration. As a result, most licensed pot businesses operate with cash on a day-to-day basis.

For more than six years, Perlmutter has been pushing for reform of federal banking laws that would shield financial institutions serving marijuana businesses, arguing that operating on a cash-only basis makes marijuana businesses a target for robberies and burglaries. Although SAFE made it through the House in 2019, it has yet to reach the Senate floor, much less President Donald Trump's desk.

And first, the SAFE Banking Act has to receive the go-ahead from Senator Crapo, who took a big ol' dump on the bill in December.

“I remain firmly opposed to efforts to legalize marijuana on the federal level,” Crapo said at the time. “I have significant concerns that the SAFE Banking Act does not address the high-level potency of marijuana, marketing tactics to children, lack of research on marijuana’s effects, and the need to prevent bad actors and cartels from using the banks to disguise ill-gotten cash to launder money into the financial system.”

Crapo also said that he'd like to see further studies focusing on marijuana's effects on children, as well as a potency limit of 2 percent THC on legal marijuana products, which would essentially wipe out the inventory of every dispensary in Colorado.
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Colorado Congressman Doug Lamborn.
U.S. House of Representatives
Since then, the bill hasn't moved. In January, Perlmutter and his fellow SAFE sponsors in the House sent a public letter to Crapo, asking him to come to the table for a diplomatic discussion about getting the bill through Congress. In response, Buck, Lamborn and other representatives sent Crapo a letter applauding his stance on the issues while raising their own concerns about marijuana use by children, impaired driving and the country's recent vaping health crisis, which was largely tied to black-market cannabis and nicotine oil products.

"Thank you for introducing a public health perspective to the question of banking for marijuana enterprises, including recreational stores that are advertising products that are appealing to children. We understand you have received significant pushback from these businesses for raising public health questions related to their business practices, and we urge you to stand strong," the letter reads.

Buck, a longtime critic of marijuana legalization and former Weld County district attorney, explains his stance in a statement shared by Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-legalization nonprofit.

"The SAFE Banking Act jeopardizes public safety by legitimizing banking access for a Schedule I drug. It is important that we continue to tread lightly and consider public health concerns that surround the marijuana industry," Buck says. "That’s why I opposed the SAFE Banking Act when it came to a vote in the House of Representatives and urge Senator Crapo to weigh these concerns when considering this legislation in the Senate."

The same day Crapo received the letter from twelve House members encouraging him to stall SAFE, he received another letter from over 1,300 marijuana business owners and industry representatives, pleading with him to consider the bill as written.

While Crapo's comments put some stink on federal marijuana banking reform, Colorado lawmakers are making plans to take on pot banking at the state level. Early this month, Governor Jared Polis and the state Department of Regulatory Agencies announced their Roadmap to Cannabis Banking, designed to "increase the number of financial service providers in Colorado who serve the state’s legal marijuana and industrial hemp industries." The program calls for regular stakeholder meetings, finding new ways to serve marijuana businesses through money transferring, pushing for more federal protection, engaging with state-chartered banks and credit unions, and helping guide the way through state and federal obstacles faced by marijuana businesses and financial institutions that try to work together.

Days before the governor and DORA announced the banking roadmap, a bill was introduced in the Colorado House of Representatives that would allow state-certified credit unions to provide loans to marijuana business owners. That measure, House Bill 1217, passed its first hearing unanimously in the House Finance Committee on February 13.