Congressman urge regulators to allow marijuana entrepreneurs to use financial services

Staff writerSeptember 7, 2013 

A marijuana cigarette is rolled for purchase. (Staff file photo, 2012)

STEVE BLOOM — THE OLYMPIAN

It will soon be legal to commercially grow, process and sell marijuana for recreational use. It remains problematic whether growers, processors and sellers can process the money they earn.

Because cannabis remains illegal under federal law, banks and credit unions are hesitant to open or maintain checking or savings accounts for cannabis-related businesses.

Following positive guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice concerning enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act in Washington and Colorado – states that have legalized marijuana use – two members of the House of Representatives have urged federal regulators to give slack to their own enforcement.

In a letter to the Federal Reserve, Department of the Treasury, Comptroller of the Currency, National Credit Union Administration, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Congressmen Denny Heck of Washington and Ed Perlmutter of Colorado have urged that regulators “issue a memorandum providing guidance to regulated banks, credit unions and other financial services providers eliminating any further uncertainty and ensuring state and local governments have access to an effective and safe regulatory regime.”

Translation: Loosen the reins.

To make their argument, the congressmen especially cite the contention that the current cash-heavy nature of the business “places our communities are serious risk by increasing the likelihood of crime. ... Allowing licensed and regulated businesses to access the banking system will decrease the risks associated with operating a cash-only business and increase public safety.”

Because of the current legal strictures, Heck and Perlmutter said in a release this week, regulated cannabis businesses are “forced to operate as cash-only enterprises, inviting crime such as robbery and tax evasion and adding to the burden of setting up a legitimate small business.”

Both Heck and Perlmutter have sponsored legislation concerning banks and cannabis, and Phil Gardner, a spokesman for Rep. Heck, said that both members are “pressing forward with the legislation they're co-sponsoring, but this is another possible avenue to resolve some of the concerns.”

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