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Marijuana banking bill getting little interest in DC

Associated Press - Updated: March 20, 2014 at 1:24 pm

DENVER — A Denver Post survey of Washington lawmakers suggests that legislation that could end the marijuana industry's cash-only practices will not move out of committee this year.

The Post reported Thursday (bit.ly/1r0emOg) that aside from most Colorado lawmakers, only one congressman who is not a sponsor of the bill was interested in even discussing the legislation.

The bill, HR 2652, would allow banks to do business with recreational and medical marijuana retailers and businesses in states that legalize pot. Democrats Ed Perlmutter of Colorado and Denny Heck of Washington introduced the bill in July.

Since marijuana is illegal under federal law, banks are reluctant to open accounts and conduct transactions with pot businesses for fear of prosecution.

The bill's sponsors say the industry's cash-only status is a magnet for crime — robbery, tax evasion — and complicates small business operations.

Four of 60 members of the House Financial Services Committee, and one of 39 House Judiciary Committee members, told the Post they had no position. The rest did not respond.

"The almost universal response is the rolling of one's eyes," Heck said of his efforts to discuss the bill.

Most committee members represent states that haven't legalized any form of marijuana. And neither committee has scheduled a hearing on the bill, which has 29 co-sponsors.

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use. To date, only Colorado and Washington have allowed the sale and use of marijuana for recreational use. Several other states, including Oregon and Alaska, are expected to vote on legalizing recreational marijuana within the next year.

The U.S. Justice Department has made clear it won't interfere with businesses in states where marijuana's sale or use has been made legal so long as everyone adheres to state law and the industry is taxed and regulated.

The Treasury and Justice departments issued formal guidance for banks in February, but the financial industry says banks will remain wary of opening accounts for marijuana businesses.

Both Perlmutter and Heck said that for their bill to have a chance of passing, more states will need to legalize marijuana.

The bill's Colorado co-sponsors include Democratic Reps. Diana DeGette and Jared Polis and Republican Mike Coffman. Republican Doug Lamborn opposes it, and Republicans Cory Gardner and Scott Tipton have not taken positions.

In the Senate, Democrat Michael Bennet says he supports the legislation, while Democrat Mark Udall has taken no position.

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Information from: The Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com

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