Senate Committee Approves Marijuana Banking Amendment

On June 23, 2015, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment with a vote of 16-14 aimed at protecting marijuana businesses and allowing access to banking services.

The amendment would prohibit the Treasury Department and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network from using federal funds to punish financial institutions for doing business with the marijuana industry.

The amendment is attached to the 2016 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill.

Although recreational and medical marijuana have become legal in a number of states, marijuana businesses still face the difficulty of getting access to basic banking services. If business owners are not outright denied a bank account, banks will often close the business owners’ accounts with little notice.

As a result, many marijuana dispensaries and businesses have become cash-only enterprises. The cash-only approach creates a multitude of logistical and safety concerns. In a statement, Dan Riffle, Director of Federal Policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, praised the move by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“Allowing these businesses to access basic banking services is a critical step toward letting states regulate marijuana as effectively and responsibly as possible,” Riffle said.  “A strong majority of Americans think the federal government should stop interfering in state marijuana laws. It appears many, if not most, of the top 2016 presidential candidates agree.”

Indeed, presidential candidates from both sides of the aisle have expressed some support for allowing states decide how they write their marijuana laws.

It may be somewhat expected to hear Democratic candidates, at least, support a hands-off approach to marijuana, but to the surprise of many,  even candidates like former Texas Governor Rick Perry respect the rights of the states to decide.

Speaking at the Western Conservative Summit, Perry said he defends the right of states like Colorado to be “wrong” on the issue of marijuana reform, which is a far cry from the “Just Say No” days of the Reagan administration.

According to Marijuana.com, every Democrat on the committee, except for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, voted in favor of the measure, while every Republican voted against it, with the exception of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont.

The Financial Services bill, as adopted by the Appropriations Committee, also deletes a provision from last year’s Financial Services bill that prevented Washington, D.C., from legalizing and regulating recreational marijuana.

Although recreational marijuana is legal in D.C., Congress barred D.C. from using any funds to actually implement the measure, leaving recreational marijuana legal, but completely unregulated. Many affectionately called this move the “Drug Dealer Protection Act.”

The advancement of marijuana reform on the federal level is slow and incremental, but it is still encouraging. There may never be a sweeping legalization bill like many marijuana advocates hope for, but if states keep passing reform, and the federal government gets out of the way, then there may not be a need for such a federal bill.

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