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  • Writer's pictureMario Nicolais

High Time for Feds to Allow Marijuana Banks

Marijuana is here to stay. Not just in Colorado – the butt of many envious jokes for the past few years – but across the country. Medical marijuana is legal in 18 states. Oregon and Alaska recently became the third and fourth states to legalize recreational use, while several others have de-criminalized by replacing criminal penalties with minor civil fines.

And even Washington D.C. now allows citizens to partake.

Too bad a few more members of Congress and federal regulators haven’t taken advantage. Maybe if they’d relax a little and be a little more open minded, we would be able to resolve one of the most moronic dilemmas in our country today. While it’s legal to buy weed in our nation’s capital, and it’s legal to smoke a bowl when you get home, the guy who sold it to you still can’t deposit the money you forked over into a bank.

It is ridiculous. It is dangerous. It is easy to fix. And it is the fault of our federal representatives (not named Jared Polis) that it has not been resolved.

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson intimated that he would not be order the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City to grant a master account to a credit union created specifically to service marijuana retailers. While he understood the dilemma faced by retailers, his hands would be tied until the federal government changed its long-standing policies toward pot.

Judge Jackson is sharp, thorough, well-respected, and experienced as a judge. He is (probably) not wearing tie-dye under his black robe. So it would behoove policy makers to take heed of his request to resolve the matter and treat the issue with more respect.

Look, it’s easy to see why progress hasn’t been made to date. It’s simply too easy to laugh off the issue with an offhand joke and move on to “more pressing matters.” The stereotypes and perceptions are so ingrained, that the industry struggles to get a serious reception.

That needs to change. And soon.

First, the organizing might of the marijuana industry has been nothing short of stupefying in the past five years. No group aside from the marriage equality movement has organized citizen-led changes on so many fronts in the past five years. What is more, they have done so without engendering the same pushback seen by marriage equality or gun-control advocates. Opposition forces simply haven’t grown and coalesced in the same manner. Given that clout, it shouldn’t be a surprise if up to eleven more states legalize marijuana in the next few years.

Second, there is a lot of money at stake. To quote the late, great Notorious B.I.G., “the more money we come across, the more problems we see.” As the credit union argued before Judge Jackson, without a depository for funds, marijuana retailers become a cash only business. That makes them a target for criminals. The reaction leads to a need for increased security. More guys, more guns, more drugs, more money. Pablo Escobar would probably recognize this pattern.

But it’s a money problem for states and the federal government, too. Tracking taxes on cash businesses is not an easy task. It invites fuzzy math and concealment. Anyone who has ever dealt with an IRS inquiry knows that the first thing they want are bank statements. Can’t you just see a frustrated revenue officer sitting across from an edibles entrepreneur explaining how he’d provide bank statements if only he could?

Assuming they aren’t stoned on the couch with a bag of potato chips, our leaders in Washington need to address marijuana banking reforms before the issue gets any bigger.

This column appeared in the print edition of The Colorado Statesman.

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