Marijuana banking and Senate hearing: Will the fix in the works stick?
When the Obama administration announced that it wouldn't sue to stop Amendment 64 and other state cannabis laws, anticipation about yesterday's Senate hearing on marijuana shifted from whether the feds could be forced to make a decision to what they'd say about allowing measures to take effect. As such, the biggest headline to emerge involved steps that should allow pot shops to legally use the banking system -- a development cheered by Denver's mayor and an A64 co-author. But another weed expert worries about whether the fix will stick.
Big photos, videos below.
Among those who testified at the hearing was Deputy Attorney General James Cole, who authored the memo clarifying the Justice Department's position on marijuana in Colorado and Washington, which also approved an A64-like policy last November. As reported by the Associated Press, Cole acknowledged that the inability of cannabis businesses to use banks due to laws involving money laundering and drugs (marijuana remains illegal at the federal level) was something "we need to deal with" and the Justice Department is "working on it" in collaboration with federal banking regulators.
Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy chaired the Senate hearing.
Afterward, Denver mayor Michael Hancock cheered the development. "Denver recognizes that the Department of Justice took an important step today by acknowledging the need to address the issue of legalizing marijuana-industry banking," he said in a statement. "The current inability of these cash-only businesses to legally access banking institutions creates accountability barriers and exposes them and our neighborhoods to unnecessary safety risks, including serious criminal activity.
"It is imperative that banking regulators and justice officials take action in order to create an effective and safe environment to transact business that will help protect these businesses -- particularly in states and cities with regulatory systems in place -- as well as Denver's families and neighborhoods," Hancock added.
Attorney Brian Vicente, who helped co-write Amendment 64, also feels positively about the hearing. Corresponding via e-mail, he writes, "Yesterday's Senate hearing ushers in a new era of marijuana policy -- one where marijuana is strictly regulated at the state level, and the federal government leaves responsible marijuana consumers and businesses alone.
Also speaking at the hearing was Jack Finlaw, chief legal counsel for Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper.
"Colorado has been given a clear path to regulate marijuana, and we need to focus now on establishing and funding the regulatory structure which will keep the feds out," Vicente concludes.
However, marijuana attorney Warren Edson sounds a cautionary note.
Continue for more about marijuana banking and yesterday's Senate hearing, including more photos and three videos.