Marijuana Facts

Marijuana industry would no longer be cash-only if this bill passes. And this time, it has a better chance.

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter has again introduced legislation allowing marijuana businesses to use banks, removing a hindrance that has plagued Colorado businesses in the five years since marijuana legalization.

“The fears that we had, that this was a public safety matter, have come to pass,” Perlmutter said.

The bill has nine Republican co-sponsors. Some say their support is not an endorsement of marijuana but a realization that banking creates paper trails, improves public safety and maintains “the very pillars of liberty and freedom our country was founded on,” in the words of Ohio Rep. Warren Davidson, a member of the conservative/libertarian House Freedom Caucus.

Perlmutter has introduced similar legislation several times before and it has failed to pass the House and Senate. But the political calculus has changed with Democrats controlling the House.

Perlmutter spent years fighting to get even a hearing on marijuana banking in the House Financial Services Committee without success. After Democrats took control in January, one of the first hearings in Financial Services was on marijuana banking, a stark sign of the bill’s changing odds.

U.S. Representative Ed Perlmutter listens during ...
Joe Amon, Denver Post file

In this 2016 file photo, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter listens to a discussion about Denver’s housing affordability. On Thursday, Perlmutter re-introduced legislation to allow cannabis companies to use banks and credit unions.

RELATED: Colorado lawmakers taking second crack at bill that would allow publicly traded marijuana companies

The bill had 106 co-sponsors when it was introduced Thursday and Perlmutter expects to add many more in the coming weeks. He is optimistic of the bill’s odds in committee, the House and Senate, where companion legislation has drawn support from some Republicans in past years. While it’s not known if President Donald Trump will back the bill, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney sponsored the bill when he was in Congress.

“I think they’re good,” Perlmutter said when asked about the bill’s chances, “but we have a lot of work to do.”

Because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, financial institutions risk criminal prosecution if they hold the profits of marijuana sales. That forces cannabis companies to operate primarily with cash, making them vulnerable to robberies and more prone to white-collar crimes.

“There are a few banks and credit unions that will do business with us, but for the most part the regionals and the nationals, like Wells Fargo, will not touch us,” said Bruce Nassau, board chairman at Marijuana Industry Group and a co-owner of Denver-area cannabis companies.

“Two things the bad guys love are cash and cannabis. So, we’re kind of a sitting duck,” he added.

Taxi cab drive Juan Molina
Helen H. Richardson, Denver Post file

In this file photo from June 20, 2016, taxi cab drive Juan Molina pays his respects at a makeshift memorial for shooting victim Travis Mason at the Green Heart marijuana dispensary in Aurora.

Anti-marijuana groups oppose Perlmutter’s bill because banking bolsters the cannabis industry.

Kevin Sabet, a former drug policy adviser to President Barack Obama and founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, called cannabis companies “money hungry.”

“The marijuana industry has spent massive amounts of money to lobby Congress into granting access to the federal banking system, which would open the floodgates on Wall Street investment. So far, it has been in vain, but we will remain vigilant in stopping Big Marijuana,” Sabet said.

Nassau is more optimistic about this Perlmutter bill than he’s been with past bills. The legislation would grant cannabis companies legitimacy and treat them as all other companies are treated, he said. It would assuage the fears he has for his employees, customers and the general public.

“This is, potentially, a real game-changer for us,” he said.