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House OKs banking for pot shops

By David McMillin · Bankrate.com
Saturday, July 19, 2014
Posted: 10 am ET

<p class="source">© Ed Endicott/Demotix/Corbis</p>It looks like there is at least one piece of legislation that can find support on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill, and it's geared toward an unlikely pair: marijuana and the banking industry. This week, the House of Representatives approved an amendment to the financial services appropriations bill that would forbid the use of federal funds to penalize banks who serve legal marijuana businesses.

Some states around the country have been loosening laws around medical and recreational marijuana use, but selling the drug remains a violation of federal laws. The discrepancy has created serious challenges for marijuana business owners in Colorado and Washington. While they aren't struggling to attract customers, they are struggling to find a safe place to park their cash. Banks have feared the potential repercussions of dealing with drug-related accounts, but the House vote is a sign that they may soon be able to process money from marijuana sales without worrying about breaking the law.

"This is a huge step forward for the legal cannabis industry," Aaron, Smith, Executive Director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, said in a statement. "Access to basic banking services is one of the most critical challenges facing legal cannabis businesses and the state agencies tasked with regulating them."

While the vote in the House is good news for the marijuana industry, business owners aren't celebrating yet. The Senate still has to approve the measure, and it will most likely encounter some harsh criticism. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley recently co-wrote an open letter to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network that questioned why the organization is loosening its approach to banks and drug dollars.

"Congress and the president may reconsider marijuana's legality, but until federal law is changed, selling marijuana, laundering marijuana proceeds, and aiding and abetting those activities all remain illegal," the letter states.

Which side are you on? As more states consider legalizing marijuana, should business owners be able to open bank accounts?

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