Perlmutter again backs law to give marijuana businesses access to banks

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Photo: Marijuana bud, dollars bills in background, Denver dispensary (AP Photo)
A caregiver picks out a marijuana bud for a patient at a marijuana dispensary in Denver in a file photo.

One problem for the owners of Colorado's marijuana businesses is what to do with all the cash. That's because they aren't welcomed by most banks.

"This is, I think, one of the biggest public safety issues we have facing Colorado today," says Fourth Corner Credit Union CEO Deirdra O'Gorman. "It's not safe for any of the business owners nor for the monetary system in and of itself."

Fourth Corner, located in downtown Denver, aspires to serve the industry and that could help lower crime, O'Gorman says. But the credit union's doors have yet to open. The bank needs insurance, she says, and what's called a "master account" from the Federal Reserve System to do day-to-day business. Without such an account, O'Gorman says, "it basically just makes your financial institution a large vault -- and the last thing this industry needs is more vaults."

The credit union hopes to open its doors soon, O'Gorman says. It would be rare in the system. Banks are generally wary about dealing with marijuana businesses even though the Justice Department has issued guidelines on how they can provide financial services. Though marijuana is legal for recreational and medicinal use by adults in Colorado, banks are reluctant to provide services because pot remains illegal under federal law.

Several members of Congress, including Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., are again planning to pursue legislation to assure banks that provide services to marijuana businesses there would be no federal backlash for doing so. Perlmutter, who says safety is driving his actions, also recently helped orchestrate a conference between Federal Reserve of Kansas City president Esther George, government officials, marijuana business owners, and bankers.

Perlmutter spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner.

Rep. Perlmutter on safety issues for marijuana businesses:

"Banks won't take their cash, and so they're always operating with a pool of cash and that causes a lot of public safety concerns, whether it's robbery, assault, fraud. So we are doing what we can to align the federal laws and the state laws back here in Washington, but there is resistance to this.

On marijuana's classification under the Controlled Substances Act:

"The real issue is, under the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is treated as a Schedule 1 drug, which means it has no medicinal value and it is illegal for all purposes. That was sort of a congressional fiat back in the early 70's, and that scheduling of marijuana, I think really needs to be addressed."

On the current landscape of marijuana use in the US:

"I think that the federal law should reflect that half the states, and more than half the people are in a state where there is some level of marijuana use and we ought to make this thing much more transparent and bring it into the light instead of having the money in cash in somebody's mattress or something."