Colorado attorney general, 18 others write to Congress urging legislation to protect pot banking

Colorado attorney general, 18 others write to Congress urging legislation to protect pot banking
Posted at 8:35 PM, Jan 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-16 22:41:13-05

DENVER – Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and 18 other attorneys general from across the country sent a letter to congressional leadership Tuesday asking that Congress pass measures to safeguard marijuana businesses in how they deal with the banking industry.

“[T]he states and federal government share a strong interest in protecting public safety and bringing grey market activities into the regulated banking sector,” the letter to leadership read.

The attorneys general – many, but not all from states where marijuana is legal – wrote to the members of Congress in the wake of the decision by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind the 2013 Cole Memo, which protected states with legal marijuana programs from extraneous federal enforcement.

Since then, there has been concern in states where pot is legal that some protections for legal marijuana businesses, and how they store and manage their money, might be in question under the new guidance.

All of Colorado’s members of Congress except for Rep. Doug Lamborn have been working on figuring out ways that Colorado’s recreational and medical programs can stay on track without any interference from the Justice Department – though Colorado’s U.S. attorney, Bob Troyer, has said that not much would change here under the new rules.

On Friday, all of Colorado’s House members save Lamborn delivered a letter to House leadership and the appropriations committee requesting that any new appropriations or funding bills not include language that would allow federal law enforcement relating to marijuana in most U.S. states.

Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner also both wrote to FinCEN’s director last weekasking them to keep federal marijuana financial institution guidance in place.

FinCEN spokesperson Steve Hudak told Denver7 Friday that FinCEN was directing the question of whether the guidance would indeed stay in place to a help line message, which said: “The SAR [Suspicious Activity Report] reporting structure laid out in the February 14, 2014 guidance remains in place.  FinCEN will continue to work closely with law enforcement and the financial sector to combat illicit finance, and we will notify the financial sector of any changes to FinCEN’s SAR reporting expectations.”

Coffman published an editorial in The Washington Post on Friday titled, “It is too late to dismantle the marijuana industry,” in which she argued many of the points that went into Tuesday’s letter.

“Opening a bank account is often one of the first steps a new business takes, but given the currently outdated federal banking laws, the multi-billion dollar legal marijuana industry is forced to remain in the financial shadows running cash-only businesses,” Coffman said Tuesday.

The attorneys general wrote Tuesday that marijuana sales were expected to grow to $20 billion by 2021, but noted that the money can’t be regulated or insured, forcing many businesses to operate in a cash-only system.

They ask that Congress pass legislation like the SAFE Banking Act, which was introduced by Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., again last April, which would allow banks and financial institutions to work with marijuana businesses without fear of being punished. The measure had 64 cosponsors as of Tuesday.

“Our banking system must be flexible enough to address the needs of businesses in the various states, with state input, while protecting the interests of the federal government,” the attorneys general wrote Tuesday. “This includes a banking system for marijuana-related businesses that is both responsive and effective in meeting the demands of our economy. We look forward to working with you as you move forward in this process and lending our voice and expertise as you develop legislation.”