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Colorado welcomes upcoming marijuana banking rules

6:41 PM, Jan 24, 2014   |    comments
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KUSA - Marijuana industry leaders and political leaders alike welcomed this week's promise of forthcoming federal guidelines to allow the pot businesses to use banks.

US Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday that his Justice department is working with the US Treasury to issue guidance for banking in the marijuana industry.

"We are encouraged that appropriate guidance for banks will be provided soon," said Eric Brown, Communications Director for Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado.) "This is an important issue the governor has continued to pursue with federal officials and banking regulators. We hope the guidance is specific and will give banks and the marijuana industry what they need to move forward."

Because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, many banks refuse to work with pot-related business for fear they will end up in the bad graces of federal regulators, or even be accused of money laundering.

That reality has marijuana businesses concerned, especially as they see their cash flow increase with newly-legalized sales.

A Denver company that makes a cannabis oil vaporizer called the "Open VAPE," is selling a cartridge of the drug every 30 seconds, according to business partner Todd Micthem.

"It's probably the most profitable oil production you can be involved in today," Mitchem said. "That's for sure."

He's happy for the profits, but not happy that much of the money has to be handled in cash.

Recently he had a scare when one of his delivery people got in an accident while hauling marijuana for the company.

"He was carrying a large amount of cash. He had about $50,000 in the car," Mitchem said.

He says the driver went to the hospital for treatment and Denver police returned the cash, but it got everyone at the company thinking.

"That was an accident but what if it had been a calculated attack? It really puts a red light on something we have to solve," Mitchem said.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colorado) said he was encouraged by Holder's announcement of federal guidance, but more needs to be done.

"At the end of the day we still have to change the law," Perlmutter said.

Perlmutter would like to see congressional action on the issue to make banking expressly legal for the marijuana industry.

The congressman told 9NEWS he thought that much could be accomplished before the end of the Obama presidency.

He'd rather see an all-encompassing waiver, exempting states like Colorado from the Controlled Substances Act prohibition on marijuana.

That's a more ambitious political goal, one that Perlmutter is prepared to sell to members of Congress from other states who have reservations about casting a pro-marijuana vote.

"I'd say, 'look, we're not making it legal in your state. It is legal in mine. And I'm trying to reduce crime in my state,'" Perlmutter said.

The Attorney General's guidance won't change the law. It is likely to be more of a statement assuring that federal prosecutors will not make a priority out of targeting banks who do business with marijuana companies.

"It's an attempt to deal with the reality that exists in these states,'' Holder said Thursday, in reference not only to Colorado and Washington, but the 20 other states to legalize medical marijuana.

Holder also acknowledged one of the marijuana industries biggest concerns, that piles of cash make them targets for crime.

"There is a public safety component to this,'' Holder said. "Substantial amounts of cash, just kind of lying around with no place for it to (be) appropriately deposited is something that would worry me from just a law enforcement perspective.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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