Congress doesn’t have the appetite to deal with the conflict between federal and state laws that has caused a banking crisis for the burgeoning marijuana industry in Colorado and other states, according to a member of a House committee that would take up the debate.
Despite repeated calls for Congress to address federal rules that restrict banks from openly working with the marijuana industry — the drug is illegal under federal law — U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, said he sees little resolve in Washington, D.C., to take it on.
Tipton, a member of the House Committee on Financial Services, said in an interview that he believes it’s also unlikely the Federal Reserve will act anytime soon on marijuana-only Fourth Corner Credit Union’s request for direct access to the nation’s banking system.
“Those who are on the outside do not have the appetite to take on the issue,” Tipton told The Denver Post in an interview. “There’s nothing much on (the discussion) right now, and I’m not sure when it might be.”
Supporters of federal legislation to give financial institutions a green light to deal with marijuana business — the U.S. Department of Justice has offered guidelines on how the relationship should work but not assurances it wouldn’t prosecute — say momentum is on their side as more states legalize the drug.
Tipton said some bankers have privately told him they’d like to be able to work with the businesses that legally grow and sell marijuana in Colorado, but federal laws still make the relationship akin to money laundering.
While Tipton said he’s aware of the challenges marijuana businesses face in acquiring and holding onto bank accounts “and the need for a solution,” one doesn’t seem to be forthcoming.
“Then there’s the issue of commingling of funds between businesses, or those in bordering states,” Tipton said of owners of cannabis businesses who might have cross-ownership in another industry. “I’m not sure how we solve that.”
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One of the state’s loudest supporters for a congressional fix, Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden, says Tipton has it wrong — that support for a way to open banking’s doors is growing.
“There is no doubt we need to bridge the gap between state and federal law in order to reflect the reality of the situation in more than half the states across the country,” Perlmutter said in an e-mail. “I remain confident we will be able to align the federal and state laws on the banking front.”
With 23 states and the District of Columbia having passed some form of legalized marijuana — Colorado is one of three to have legalized its sale for recreational use — Perlmutter said the proof of support is already evident.
In July, Perlmutter worked for an amendment to block federal funds not associated with regulatory agencies from being used to penalize a bank solely for having provided services to a legal marijuana-related business.
Yet, his farthest-reaching effort — House Resolution 2652, introduced in July 2013 to give financial institutions the legal clearance and protections to bank the marijuana industry — couldn’t get a committee hearing.
“We believe if … it were taken up on the House floor today, it would pass,” Perlmutter spokeswoman Ashley Hause said.
Things might be shifting, though. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., recently introduced a bill that would end the federal prohibition of medical marijuana.
It also would make it easier for banks to work with the medical pot industry.
And Perlmutter said he expects to reintroduce the guts of the House resolution by the end of April.
However, the Committee on Financial Services is chaired by Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a conservative Texas Republican who has held the spot since January 2013.
David Migoya: 303-954-1506, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/davidmigoya