Congress Catches a New Buzz on Marijuana Guidance
Credit unions that want to provide services to legal marijuana businesses cleared another hurdle this week on Capitol Hill.
The House voted 236-186 Wednesday to reject an amendment that would have blocked the Treasury Department from implementing guidance it issued in February, which told laid out rules for dealing with medical marijuana dispensaries, recreational pot shops and other businesses in states that have legalized cannabis.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) led the successful effort to defeat the amendment.
The votes illustrate the increasing social and economic acceptance of marijuana.
The amendment to block the regulatory guidance was offered by Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) as part of the FY15 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill.
In a statement following the vote, Perlmutter, who spoke to credit unions at GAC in February, said it was critical to defeat Fleming’s proposed amendment.
"Forcing legal and licensed marijuana businesses to operate in cash is extremely dangerous and would put my constituents at risk of assault, robbery and other serious crimes,” Perlmutter stated.” This is about public safety. A cash-only business puts all our communities at risk.”
The new guidance from the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which included a Feb. 14 Department of Justice memo, laid out additional policing responsibilities beyond those typically imposed by the Bank Secrecy Act.
The documents also warned that financial institutions – and marijuana merchants – could be prosecuted if they don’t adhere to the eight federal priorities specified in a 2013 Department of Justice memo.
Perlmutter said the regulator guidance helped to pave the way for banks and credit unions to provide financial services and bank accounts to Colorado's licensed and regulated marijuana-businesses.
Not allowing the guidance to be implemented would have created a hardship for many businesses and individuals, he said.
“It is not fair to small businesses and employees in Colorado, and in the 33 other states and D.C. where some form of marijuana is legal or decriminalized, to be forced out of the banking system and discriminated against by the federal government,” Perlmutter said.
The House also approved an amendment that would block the Treasury Department and SEC from spending funds to penalize financial institutions serving cannabis businesses in states that have approved laws to allow the plant, according to a release from Perlmutter. The congressman joined forces with Rep. Denny Heck (R-Wash.) in the effort.
"Passage of this amendment is a positive step forward for financial institutions and for legitimate marijuana businesses," Perlmutter stated. "Legal marijuana businesses are subject to greater risks and penalties because they do not have access to the banking system. We need to bridge the gap between state and federal law in order to reflect the reality of the situation in a growing number of states."
In July 2013, Rep. Perlmutter and Rep. Denny Heck introduced H.R. 2652, the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act.