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Republicans Block Marijuana Banking Measure

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Republican congressional leadership is blocking consideration of a measure to allow marijuana businesses to deposit their profits in banks.

Many financial institutions are currently afraid to serve cannabis businesses that are legal in a growing number of states because of ongoing federal prohibition and the associated risk of running afoul of money laundering and drug laws.

As a result, many marijuana growing, processing and retail operations carry out business on a cash-only basis, making them targets for robberies.

Congressman Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) wants to solve this problem. Last Wednesday, at a meeting of the House Financial Services Committee, he offered an amendment that would have prevented federal authorities for punishing banks just for working with legal marijuana businesses.

“The regulatory confusion around marijuana and banking needs to be resolved,” Perlmutter said during the markup. “Prohibition is over. This committee has a responsibility to align the laws of the United States with those of the states so that there isn’t confusion. Public safety is at risk.”

Perlmutter referred to the case of an Iraq War veteran who was killed during a robbery while working as a security guard at a marijuana retail operation in Colorado.

“This is a real issue that this committee must deal with and confront and cannot overlook any more,” he said.

“I don’t think there’s a single person on this committee that is in a state that doesn’t allow some level of marijuana use,” Perlmutter noted, referring to the 46 states that either have comprehensive medical cannabis laws or allow limited uses of low-THC marijuana extracts.

Nonetheless, Republicans on the committee used procedural moves to block the banking measure from even being voted on.

Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) reserved a point of order against the measure, claiming it was not germane to the overall bill on stress testing for financial institutions. (As an aside, the GOP lawmaker did mention that his daughter resides in Colorado and that they talk about marijuana issues “a lot”).

Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) ruled to uphold Luetkemeyer’s point or order. Perlmutter then made a motion to appeal the ruling of the chair, but Luetkemeyer motioned to table consideration of Perlmutter’s move.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) spoke in support of Perlmutter’s amendment.

“Someday we will realize that this is a federal issue that must be dealt with,” she said.

Congressman David Scott (D-GA) also argued that the panel needs to address the cannabis banking issue at some point.

“If…his amendment is not germane, I still believe that this whole burgeoning issue certainly falls in the bosom of the Financial Services Committee as we move forward,” he said.

But the vote on Luetkemeyer’s motion was approved on a strictly party-line vote of 28 to 14, effectively blocking the cannabis banking measure from being considered.

The text of Perlmutter’s amendment is similar to a standalone bill he is sponsoring in the House, which currently has 51 cosponsors. A Senate companion version has 12 cosponsors.

In 2014, the Obama administration released guidance intended to give banks some comfort in working with the marijuana industry. But, because the memos provided no permanent or assured protection from continuing federal prohibition laws that remain on the books, many financial services providers have remained wary.

Also in 2014, the U.S. House voted 231 to 192 in favor of an amendment to prevent federal authorities from punishing banks for working with the legal marijuana industry. But the language was not included in the final version of annual appropriations legislation that year and was not enacted into law. GOP leaders have since blocked similar measures from even being considered for attachment to subsequent spending bills.

The new banking measure’s fate marks the second time in recent days that House Republican leaders have prevented cannabis-related financial measures from even being voted on.

Also last week, GOP leaders blocked consideration of amendments concerning taxation of marijuana businesses that supporters wanted to attached a broader GOP tax reform plan moving through Congress.

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Over the course of the past year, congressional leaders have consistently prevented marijuana measures from coming to the House floor. Aside from banking and tax amendments, proposals to protect state laws from federal interference, allow industrial hemp and increase military veterans’ access to medical cannabis have all been shut down by the House Rules Committee.

Also last week, that panel blocked a measure from Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL) aimed at  increasing military veterans’ participation in medical cannabis research.

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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