Hickenlooper asks feds to let Colorado pot shops use banks

Every day legal, cultural and public policy structures shaping the new legal-marijuana status quo expand. Doors long shut creak open. Messages from Colorado and Washington rush in. And those creaky old doors won’t ever shut as tight again.

Today, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and Washington Governor Jay Inslee sent a letter to the heads of the agencies that oversee the nation’s banking system, asking that they grant legal pot shops full banking services.

“Access to the banking system by these state-licensed businesses is a necessary component in ensuring a highly regulated marijuana system that will accurately track funds, prevent criminal involvement, and promote public safety,” the men wrote. “In order to achieve the mutual federal and state goal of establishing tightly-controlled marijuana regulatory systems, we urge you to issue inter-agency guidance that will allow legal, licensed marijuana businesses access to the banking system.”

The letter was addressed to Jacob Lew, Secretary of the Treasury; Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve; Martin Gruenberg, Chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation; Thomas Curry, Comptroller of the Currency in the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency; Richard Cordray, Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; and Debbie Matz, Chairman of the National Credit Union Administration.

The governors are asking the nation’s top money regulators to work with the Department of Justice, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, the Office of Foreign Asset Control and the IRS to make sure Colorado and Washington don’t run into any trouble with federal law enforcement in the future. In other words, they’re looking to officials at the highest levels of government to help set reliable precedent and create predictability and confidence for the pot industry for years to come. Americans living in the other 48 states might see what they’re doing as path breaking, or table setting, or door opening.

Because pot is still illegal beyond Colorado and Washington borders, it has been an open question for two years now in Colorado as the medical marijuana industry exploded, whether pot shops can use banks. Can pot money deposited with a bank be seized by federal authorities? Will bankers be brought up on laundering charges?

The prospect of millions in untracked cash piling up in back rooms or bedroom safes has spurred business owners and lawmakers here to conjure Quentin Tarantino-style movie plot lines and shoot-em-up scenes as cautionary tales.

“[A]bsent a means to properly account for the significant amounts of cash generated by licensed marijuana producers, processors and retailers, our… interest in promoting public safety and preventing diversion of marijuana and criminal activity will be exceedingly difficult,” the letter says.

An all-cash industry, they say, will “create an unnecessary inviting target for criminal activity.”

[ Image by Vilseskogan via Flickr ]


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