Congressman Seeks to Make Banks Safe for Marijuana Mavens

By Dirk Hanson 06/07/11

Rep. Polis is leading a campaign to protect banks and marijuana dispensaries from drug trafficking charges.

No longer forbidden fruit?
Photo via thcfinder

One of the dirty tactics used in the federal government’s war on the 16 states that have legalized medical marijuana has been to vaguely threaten prosecution under various banking laws. Let’s say you’re running a profitable little medical marijuana dispensary in Boulder, doing business strictly by the book, staying legal under all state and local ordinances. And business is booming. So, you show up at a local bank to arrange for sales deposits, a line of credit, a business checking account—the usual stuff. Guess what: Banks may not want to have anything to do with you, because federal law enforcement officials and the IRS have hinted that they may be prosecuted for handling “drug money.”

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) has assembled perhaps the strangest set of bedfellows in Congress to address this problem. Along with Congressman Pete Stark, Dana Rohrabacher, Barney Frank, and Ron Paul, Rep. Polis introduced a bill in the House last week that would allow banks to deal with legal marijuana dispensaries the same way the deal with all other businesses. “It is simply wrong for the federal government to intrude in legal transactions,” Polis said in a prepared statement. The bill was one of three that Polis has spearheaded as part of his “Fearless Campaign” to make it more difficult for the federal government to interfere with state and local marijuana legislation. In March, we covered Polis’s appearance at the National Press Club in Washington on behalf of the National Cannabis Industry Association (N.C.I.A.), where he argued the case for taking the medical marijuana industry seriously.

A second bill, introduced by Rep. Stark, would allow marijuana dispensaries to write off business expenses, as just about every other business operating in the U.S. is allowed to do.
In addition, Rep. Barney Frank is sponsoring H.R. 1983, “The States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act.” The bill “would allow states to make their own medical marijuana laws free of federal interference and change marijuana’s federal designation from Schedule I to Schedule II to reflects it’s increasingly obvious medicinal properties.” And good luck with that one.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]