Bill aims to allow marijuana businesses to bank

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A lot of green will come and go from storefronts when retail marijuana businesses open in Colorado next year.

Nevermind the drug, it's the color of money. Stores that are legally able to sell pot typically operate on a cash-only basis because federal laws prohibit banks from doing business with them.

But Colorado Rep. Ed Perlmutter is seeking a change with a bill that would allow legitimate pot shops the ability to access banking services.

“We gotta do it,” Perlmutter, the Golden Democrat, told Colorado Community Media in a recent interview. “We have got to get away from having them only deal with cash, which creates a lot of problems.”

Perlmutter, along with Rep. Denny Heck, D-Washington, have introduced the Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act in Congress. The bill would shield banks and credit unions from prosecution for doing business with places that sell pot.

“Right now we have a situation where a banker tells someone, 'Wait a second, I'd love to do business with you, but I have law enforcement agencies watching me,'” Perlmutter said. “We have to move away from that.”

Perlmutter said that operating on a cash-only basis invites crime, such as robbery and tax evasion. But, right now, federal law does not allow exceptions to banking rules for states like Colorado, where either retail or medical marijuana businesses are legal.

Retail pot shops will begin to open next year, under last year's voter-approved Amendment 64. The Colorado Legislature recently put in place regulations on the new industry, but marijuana use and sales are still illegal under federal law.

Perlmutter's bill is receiving support from Colorado's congressional delegation, with Reps. Jared Polis and Diana DeGette, both Democats, and Mike Coffman, a Republican, on board. The bill is being co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 16 lawmakers.

But getting the bill through the rest of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives may be another story.

“This will be a tough climb,” Perlmutter acknowledged. “I don't want to kid you on that.”

Perlmutter said that there will be hesitation from members of Congress who are not from states that allow marijuana sales.

“A lot of folks are fearful of marijuana and its use, and they're resistant,” Perlmutter said. “So, we've got some work to do.”

The bill has been assigned to the House Financial Services Committee. Perlmutter said that he has asked the committee chairperson to hold a hearing on the bill, but said that it's still “very early in the process.”

“It's not going to be easy, but I think we can do it,” Perlmutter said.