Congress Passes Financial CHOICE Act Without Marijuana Banking Amendment

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Politicians who support banking services for legalized marijuana businesses were surprised this week when two lawmakers added a pro-pot banking amendment to a controversial bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The amendment, filed by Florida representatives Matt Gaetz and Darren Soto, was attached to the Financial CHOICE Act of 2017, which will undo much of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, an Obama-era law that tightened financial regulations in response to the economic crisis of 2008. The bill was approved by the House on June 8 — but not before the pro-pot amendment was shot down by the House Rules Committee.

The action around that amendment shows some of the dysfunction in political efforts to provide banking services for mostly all-cash marijuana businesses in Colorado and other legal states.

A few Colorado politicians who have voiced the need for federal marijuana banking protections hadn't even heard of the Gaetz-Soto amendment, which was marked by the House Rules Committee as a late submission and received little attention until a MassRoots article published on June 5 highlighted the upcoming hearing.

Gaetz and Soto had tried to loosen marijuana's federally illegal status before, putting forward a bill in April to reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule III.

Colorado lawmakers who had heard of the proposal told Westword the four-page amendment was rushed and didn't provide enough protection for financial institutions. Representative Ed Perlmutter, an advocate for legal marijuana banking services, opposed the amendment — but for different reasons than some Democrats.

"Congress needs to align our federal and state laws with respect to marijuana banking, but unfortunately, adding this amendment to legislation that essentially repeals Dodd-Frank is not in anyone’s best interest," he said in a statement sent to Westword.

From the start, the Financial CHOICE Act was expected to pass in the Republican-led House, which could be why the Gaetz-Soto amendment was added, to sweeten a bitter deal.

Still, as Perlmutter's response showed, attaching a marijuana banking amendment to a largely partisan bill is hardly the way to unify legalization efforts — especially when ithe amendment goes down.

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