Republican-Controlled House Backs Obama Rules Enabling Marijuana Banking

If you run a medical marijuana dispensary, or a legal marijuana business in Colorado, how do you get paid? Federal laws enacted during the war on drugs in the 1980s barred banks from doing business with "drug traffickers."

If your bank found out that your health center was a medical marijuana dispensary, it shut down your credit card processing service, canceled your account, and would not take your deposits.

The cash has been piling up in Colorado and getting hard to handle.

The Obama Administration, realizing that this increased the risk of robbery and undermined effective accounting practices, issued "guidance" on Feb. 14, 2014, to enable banks to start taking deposits of cash from marijuana businesses, even recreational marijuana businesses. The Treasury Department guidance can be found here. But the banks remained very leery of breaking federal law.

U. S. Rep. John Fleming (R-Louisiana) was outraged by the Obama initiative. He offered an amendment that would block the Obama Administration's guidance to the banks.

But on Wednesday afternoon, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives voted to uphold the Obama Administration regulations to let marijuana growers and sellers deposit their revenue in federally regulated banks. The 186 Yes -- 236 NO vote defeated Fleming's amendment.

This is HUGE. Even though most Republicans (179) voted yes with Dr. Fleming, the Republican leadership allowed this vote to support the Obama Administration. Obama, many Republicans (46) and the House Democrats (190 out of 199) are united that where marijuana growers and sellers are legally operating under state medical marijuana and recreational marijuana laws, they can use the banking system they have been excluded from since 1986.

In 1986, when I was counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, I played a major role in developing the Money Laundering Control Act of 1986. That law provided that anyone who engaged in a transaction like making a bank deposit of more than $10,000 from an illegal business, like a marijuana store, could go to prison for up to 10 years (Section 1352 of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, P.L. 99-570, Oct. 27, 1986 (18 U.S.C. 1957)). That was then!

Today's vote to allow marijuana businesses to use banks was by a bigger margin of victory than the June 30 vote barring the DEA from interfering with medical marijuana in states where it is legal, and this vote included recreational marijuana.

As Members of Congress feel the praise for voting to let marijuana profits get deposited in banks, they will become comfortable with similar votes such as legalizing medical marijuana and legalizing marijuana all the way!

Democracy is not a spectator sport! Post this news at #DrugPolicyReform.