DENVER — The Justice Department’s announcement Thursday that it would not sue Colorado and other states with looser marijuana laws resolved the conflict between one federal law and the voter-approved state statute legalizing recreational marijuana.
But it did nothing to resolve another conflict between federal and state law that prevents most banks and other financial institutions from working with marijuana-related businesses.
“Bankers are concerned they could be seen as having laundered money, aiding and abetting a crime, a federal crime, if they lend to these businesses,” said Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden, in an interview with FOX31 Denver.
“Many financial institutions won’t provide financial services; consequently, it becomes an all cash business. And when it’s all cash, you’re subject to more robberies, more burglaries, fraud, skimming off the top — you can’t follow the money.”
Perlmutter, along with Rep. Denny Heck, D-Washington, is co-sponsoring the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act, which would allow exempt lending institutions in states with laws legalizing medical and/or recreational marijuana from prosecution under federal banking laws.
On Thursday, after the Justice Department’s announcement, Perlmutter called for his bill, which has bipartisan support, to get a committee hearing.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-West Virginia, is the chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit.
She’s also a U.S. Senate candidate vying to help Republicans capitalize on one of the GOP’s best 2014 pickup opportunities.
So will she allow a vote?
“I think we’ll get a hearing, but it’s still very much an uphill climb,” Perlmutter said.
Last month, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey decried the violence he’s seen around the industry — some 12 homicides — that he attributed, at least in part, to the amount of cash on hand at dispensaries.
Representatives of Colorado’s medical marijuana industry were quick to point out that most of that violence occurred around “home grows” and black market transactions, not licensed businesses.