Colorado lawmakers cheer new federal guidelines on pot-industry finances

DENVER — Today the U.S. Department of Justice working with the Treasury Department released guidelines aimed at smoothing the way for banks to start doing business with pot shops in Colorado and Washington, where recreational use of cannabis is now legal.

Members of the Colorado congressional delegation are celebrating the news. Retail businesses in the state have been working for years on the ground, first as medical marijuana dispensaries and now as just plain pot shops, but they mostly have had to do business in cash, moving money around in creative ways and keeping eyes over their shoulders for what seemed an inevitable run-in with criminal stick-up and robbery gangs.

Second District Congressman Jared Polis has been at the front of the fight for the rules and for national cannabis legalization.

“I am thrilled that the Department of Justice has issued guidelines granting marijuana businesses access to federal banking institutions,” he said in a release. “I want to thank Attorney General Holder for working so quickly to get them released… In states that have legalized marijuana, and for businesses that have been state-approved, owners no longer have to fear the federal government will intrude and threaten banks that are involved in legal transactions.

“I hope that the guidelines released today provide enough clarity that some banks or credit unions feel comfortable doing business with legal marijuana businesses.”

But Polis also made clear that he thought the need for the rules signaled to the Justice Department that greater steps on the matter of cannabis policy need to be taken in Washington.

“There is still much work to be done to ensure that legal marijuana businesses will not be prosecuted in the future. The only true way to protect these small business owners is to remove marijuana from the list of schedule 1 narcotics. The bi-partisan ‘Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act,’ which I sponsored would lift the federal prohibition on marijuana, and allow states, counties, and cities to regulate or ban marijuana as their citizens desire.

“Today’s announcement gives me confidence that the President is beginning to put in place policies that reflect his recent statement that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues in Congress and with the Administration to ensure the law reflects scientific realities.”

[ Image via CSIS ]