House OKs Bill Giving Banks a Green Light to Take Pot Money

A customer purchases marijuana at Harborside marijuana dispensary on Jan. 1, 2018, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Mathew Sumner)

(CN) – The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Safe Banking Act on Wednesday, which would allow banks to provide services to marijuana-related businesses without fear of legal reprisal by the federal government.

H.R. 1595 by Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., provides protections for banks that work with marijuana businesses given the conflict between federal law and the laws of several states which have legalized cannabis in some manner.

“You may oppose marijuana legalization, but American voters have spoken and prohibition is over,” Perlmutter said from the House floor. “This is about taking cash off the streets and making communities safer.”

The vote required and earned two-thirds of the House vote, 322 to 103. Only one Democrat dissented while the Republicans were nearly split in half, with 91 voting for and 102 against.

Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., led the opposition. While he recognized its merit, he said the bill was an end-around federal law which still recognizes marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance.

“This is one of the biggest changes to drug law in my lifetime and it’s been done with little debate,” he said. “There is a much larger problem that includes the question of whether states should be allowed to violate federal law.”

McHenry and some of his dissenting colleagues also warned the bill could provide a way for drug cartels and other nefarious actors to access the American financial system and launder money.

“This bill legitimizes and encourages more widespread use of this currently illegal drug,” said Rep. David Kustoff, R-Tenn.

Rep. Maxine Water, D-Calif., said she agreed with McHenry that marijuana’s status as a Schedule I controlled substance should be addressed as soon as possible, saying that status has resulted in criminal justice inequities particularly for people of color.

“It is long overdue to confront the unjust criminalization of marijuana,” she said during remarks in support of the bill.

Other supporters urged the necessity of giving marijuana dispensaries the ability to use checking accounts, saying the presence of large amounts of cash on their premises makes them targets for violent robberies and even murder.

Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., told the story of Travis Mason, a former Marine turned dispensary security guard, who was shot and killed on the job. Mason left his young wife a widow and three young children fatherless because of the cash-only status of the business.

“This is a public safety bill,” he said.

Conservatives, many with a libertarian streak and a hankering for state’s rights, also back the resolution.

“It is ludicrous that Congress would stand in between people operating under state law and their ability to access the financial system,” said Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. “It is good for no one to have billions of dollars rolling around outside of the accountabilities and efficiencies and safeguards that the American financial system provides.”

The bill next heads to the U.S. Senate, where its fate is less certain.

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