Long Odds for Reintroduced Marijuana Banking Bill

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A bill sponsored by a Colorado Congressman that would allow legal marijuana dispensaries access to the federal banking system has been reintroduced to the House of Representatives — but it faces long odds.

Representatives Ed Perlmutter of Colorado and Denny Heck of Washington back H.R. 2076 — the Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act of 2015.

Why does Perlmutter believe the legislation is necessary? Because marijuana is still illegal by federal law, many banks have refused to handle cash from marijuana business for fear of being charged with drug trafficking and money laundering by federal authorities. The Obama Administration announced it wouldn't prosecute banks that financed or serviced marijuana business, but because of pot's Schedule I status under the Drug Enforcement Administration, precious few have stepped forward.

"First and foremost, this is an issue of public safety," Perlmutter stresses in a press-release statement. "Not only are the proprietors at risk, but the employees and customers are also at risk of serious and violent crimes. It is estimated that 40 percent of the marijuana-related businesses in Colorado are unbanked. This means hundreds of millions of dollars in cash are moving around the streets of Colorado. There are now some 213 million Americans who live in the 23 states plus the District of Columbia where the voters have allowed for some use of marijuana, and it is coming to a state near you soon.” 

Colorado pot businesses have had hopes of banking their money before — a cannabis credit union continues to lobby for acceptance from the Federal Reserve Bank, and an Oregon bank promising to serve Colorado marijuana businesses dropped all of them after claiming to not have sufficient resources. But as Perlmutter mentions in his statement, the problem isn't exclusive to Colorado. Regulated cannabis businesses in states across the country have to deal with the frustrations of operating on a cash-only basis, The results include robbery threats and paying for heightened security. 

“The federal government can’t keep an eye on business practices if they are forcing them offline and underground,” Heck said in a statement of his own. “Forcing businesses into cash-only territory is a dangerous step away from legitimacy, transparency and regulation, and a huge step towards crime, tax evasion and access to minors. We’ve got to stop that trend, and with more states legalizing recreational or medical use of marijuana, no time is better than now to move forward with this change to the law.”

The bill originally received bipartisan support, with the lone Republican co-sponsor being Representative Mike Coffman of Colorado. Two other Colorado representatives, Democrats Jared Polis and Diana DeGette, also co-sponsored the legislation.

Cannabis businesses may want to temper their optimism, however. Govtrack.us, a website that's tracked bills and voting records in Congress for over ten years, predicts that it has a 5 percent chance of getting past the House Judiciary and Financial Services Committees and a 1 percent chance of being enacted.

Because bills take a few days to post on the Congress website, H.R. 2076 is not online at this writing. For updates, click here.

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