US House Committee Approves Marijuana Banking Bill

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The U.S. House Financial Services Committee on Thursday voted 45 to 15 to send a bill to the full House that would give marijuana-related businesses access to the country’s banking system. Nearly all banks do not currently accept deposits from or provide other services to marijuana businesses fearing charges of money laundering or running afoul of federal drug laws.

As approved by the committee, federal regulators would not have the authority to punish banks that choose to offer services to businesses involved in state-legal marijuana businesses. That includes growers, processors, and retail sales outlets.

If the law passes in the House and the Senate and is signed by the President, marijuana businesses will finally be able to move away from what has been almost entirely a cash business. This has created a security headache for business owners and an attempted robbery at a Colorado dispensary cost a security guard his life.

This is the first of many legislative measures that House Democrats hope to push through in this session of Congress. The most widely desired change from marijuana’s supporters would be the removal of the substance from its listing as a Schedule I drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Other Schedule I substances include heroin and cocaine.

If marijuana’s Schedule I listing can be removed that will more easily allow the states to implement their own regulatory controls over marijuana businesses in the state. Other legislation is aimed at making medical cannabis products available to military veterans and increasing access to marijuana for research purposes. The downside is that legislators are also likely to try to pass legislation imposing a federal tax on marijuana.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, commented:

Congress must take the long view [on] all these efforts—and I will work to ensure that when it comes to passing [the banking bill] that the House does not take a ‘one and done’ approach but that we will also comprehensively work, especially with our colleagues on the Judiciary Committee, on a series of marijuana related reforms.

The legislation passed out of committee Thursday is known as the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act. It had 152 co-sponsors, more than a third of the entire U.S. House of Representatives. A total of 12 Republican representatives were among the co-sponsors.

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