U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet, left, and Cory Gardner are co-sponsors of a bill that would resume funding for the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Colorado’s Senators tell U.S. Treasury: Don’t touch marijuana banking

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner of Colorado have asked the U.S. Treasury to keep in place Obama-era rules that allow banks to serve marijuana companies — a preemptive move that follows last week’s surprise decision by the Department of Justice to rescind its policy that generally left alone from drug enforcement states that have legalized cannabis.

Bennet, a Democrat, and Gardner, a Republican, sent a letter Thursday to Kenneth Blanco, who heads the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network at Treasury, with the request that he retain a 2014 agency decision that allows banks and credit unions to do work with the cannabis industry “so long as they conducted due diligence such as verifying that the businesses were in compliance with state law.”

Both Bennet and Gardner argued the 2014 rule has been a boon for both safety and industry oversight. The two lawmakers introduced legislation last year that would similarly protect banks that did business with marijuana companies.

“The guidance has worked to reduce the amount of cash that customers, patients and businesses must use,” they wrote. “This has had the effect of increasing public safety and making it easier for state authorities to undertake their compliance and auditing functions.”

Last week’s Justice Department decision led to criticism from Gardner, Bennet and other federal lawmakers from Colorado, with Gardner saying it “trampled on the will” of Colorado voters and threatening to withhold support for Justice Department nominees until the policy dispute was resolved.

A meeting earlier this week between Gardner and Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the matter yielded little progress, with Gardner saying neither he nor Sessions gave any ground.

This story was first published on DenverPost.com