Marijuana banking and Senate hearing: Will the fix in the works stick?

Big photos, videos below.
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.

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy chaired the Senate hearing.
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.

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.

Also speaking at the hearing was Jack Finlaw, chief legal counsel for Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper.
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.

"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.

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KathleenChippi topcommenter

Shouldn't they FIRST remove cannabis from the DEA Schedule so the people, not just the banks, will be free of criminal prosecution?  

I listened to the hearing twice now and the feds retain their rights to prosecute anyone, anytime, anywhere, for anything.  

Nothing new that the banks are too big to jail.....I think the feds realized it was harder to freeze and seize illegal drug money when it's buried in the yes the feds will be fine with


This is big talk with no action. We will have a Republican in the White House in 2016 and if the laws haven't been changed by then, you can kiss all this nice talk good-bye.....With one regime change, what has been done up until now can all be reversed...Scumbag politicians like to have the 'option' to mess with people if it suit's their agendas, which is why the law's will not change at the federal level.....We have until 2016 to get it straight or it's a wrap....The raids will just carry over into the recreational industry alongside the medical.....


Actually, Cole said the banking issue is something Congress should work on. He didn't say the Justice Dept. was working on it, he asked the House and Senate to come up with legislation. 

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