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  • by Danielle Keane, NORML Associate December 16, 2015

    CongressMembers of Congress this morning unveiled the 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill, legislation that is responsible for funding the federal government through the 2016 fiscal year.  While stand alone marijuana related bills rarely gain traction in Congress, the annual omnibus appropriations bill has become a tool for federal lawmakers to pass marijuana related language into annual spending guidelines.

    In last week’s Legislative Round Up, we covered five distinct marijuana provisions that lawmakers sought to include in the final draft of the 2016 spending bill.

    We now know that two of these provisions have been included in the omnibus appropriations bill. One measure prevents the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. The other measure prevents the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration from spending money to interfere with the implementation of state industrial hemp research programs. Both measures were initially passed by Congress in 2015, but required reauthorization to extend into 2016.

    Unfortunately, separate provisions permitting doctors with the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to military veterans, and to prevent the V.A. from denying services to veterans because they are state recognized medical marijuana patients were eliminated from the final bill. Senate-backed language seeking to authorize financial institutions to engage in relationships with state-licensed marijuana business was also rejected from the final bill.  

    Lastly, language prohibiting the District of Columbia from taxing and selling marijuana was included in the annual spending for the second year in the row. Current law allows for residents to grow, possess and share marijuana. But the sale and promotion will be prohibited for at least another year.

    While we see success in having kept in place protections for state sponsored medical marijuana and hemp programs, it is nonetheless disappointing that members of Congress continue to unnecessarily insert themselves into a doctor-patient relationship with our country’s veterans and continue to deny licensed businesses access to needed banking services.

    No ground has been lost, but Congress should know we’ll be back next year to gain more.

  • by Danielle Keane, NORML Associate July 23, 2015

    Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 16-14 today in favor of an aUS_capitolmendment to allow state-compliant marijuana businesses to engage in relationships with financial institutions.

    Sponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D) of Oregon and Patty Murray (D) of Washington, the amendment to the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill prohibits the US Treasury Department from using federal funds to take punitive actions against banks that provide financial services to marijuana-related businesses that are operating legally under state laws.

    Presently, most major financial institutions refuse to provide services to state-compliant operators in the marijuana industry out of fear of federal repercussions. Their refusal to do so presents an unnecessary risk to both those who operate in the legal marijuana industry and to those consumers who patronize it.

    No industry can operate safely, transparently or effectively without access to banks or other financial institutions. Further, forcing state-licensed businesses to operate on a ‘cash-only’ basis increases the risks for crime and fraud.

    It is time for Congress to change federal policy so that this growing number of state-compliant businesses, and their consumers, may operate in a manner that is similar to other legal commercial entities. Today’s Senate Committee vote marks the first step taken by Congress to address these federal policy deficiencies.

    Although stand-alone legislation, The Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2015, is pending in both the House and the Senate, it appears unlikely at this time that leadership will move forward with either bill. This means that the Merkley/Murray amendment is like to be reformer’s best opportunity this Congress to impose substantial banking reform.

    Keep following NORML’s blog and Take Action Center for legislative updates as this and other relevant reform measures progress. To take action in support of the Merkley/Murray amendment, click here here.

    The following Senators voted in favor of the Merkley/Murray amendment:

    Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
    Bill Cassidy (R-LA)
    Christopher Coons (D-DE)
    Dick Durbin (D-IL)
    Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
    Steve Daines (R-MT)
    Chris Murphy (D-CT)
    Jack Reed (D-RI)
    Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
    Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
    Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
    Patty Murray (D-WA)
    Brian Schatz (D-HI)
    Jon Tester (D-MT)
    Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)
    Tom Udall (D-NM)

    And these Senators voted against the Merkley/Murray amendment:

    Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
    Roy Blunt (R-MO)
    John Boozman (R-AK)
    Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)
    Thad Cochran (R-MS)
    Susan Collins (R-ME)
    Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
    Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
    John Hoeven (R-ND)
    Mark Kirk (R-IL)
    James Lankford (R-OK)
    Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
    Jerry Moran (R-KS)
    Richard C. Shelby (R-AL)

     

  • by NORML July 16, 2014

    This afternoon, the House of Representatives voted 231 to 192 in favor of the Heck-Perlmutter-Lee-Rohrabacher Amendment, which will restrict Treasury Department and SEC funds from being spent to penalize financial institutions for providing services to marijuana related business that operate according to state law. This proposal amends H.R. 5016, a spending bill for fiscal year 2015 that funds the Internal Revenue Service, Treasury Department, and Securities and Exchange Commission.

    The amendment reads:

    “None of the funds made available in this Act may be used, with respect to the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, or Wisconsin or the District of Columbia, to prohibit, penalize, or otherwise discourage a financial institution from providing financial services to an entity solely because the entity is a manufacturer, producer, or person that participates in any business or organized activity that involves handling marijuana or marijuana products and engages in such activity pursuant to a law established by a State or a unit of local government.”

    This vote comes on the heels of another recent historic vote in the House of Representatives, that restricted Department of Justice and DEA funds from being used to interfere in state approved medical marijuana programs. That measure is still awaiting action in the US Senate. This measure, HR 5106, will now be sent to the Senate as well.

    “The recent votes in the House of Representatives demonstrate bi-partisan support at the federal level to allow states to experiment with new marijuana policies, free from federal interference,” stated NORML Communications Director Erik Altieri, “If implemented, this amendment will help alter the current untenable status quo that forces otherwise law abiding businesses to operate on a cash only basis, making them a target for criminal actions and unduly burdening their operations.”

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director February 14, 2014

    Today, the Department of Justice and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network division of the Treasury Department released long anticipated guidance to banks and other financial institutions on how they can interact with marijuana businesses that are licensed under state law.

    Under current regulations, financial institutions are required to file suspicious activity reports when they suspect the transaction has a drug connection. The new guidance creates a three tiered system for these reports: marijuana limited, marijuana priority, and marijuana termination. This will allow these institutions to work with marijuana businesses as long as they were operating in accordance with state laws and regulations. The Department of Justice reserved the right to pursue criminal charges when they suspect businesses are breaking the guidelines they released late last year and would still require banks to report any activity they suspect to be as operating outside of state regulations.

    “Now that some states have elected to legalize and regulate the marijuana trade, FinCEN seeks to move from the shadows the historically covert financial operations of marijuana businesses,” noted FinCEN Director Jennifer Shasky Calvery in a press release. “Our guidance provides financial institutions with clarity on what they must do if they are going to provide financial services to marijuana businesses and what reporting will assist law enforcement.”

    “This reduces the burden on banks,” FinCEN stated during a briefing on the memo, “Marijuana under federal law requires a SAR. Now, the necessity is limited, reducing the banks’ burden a bit and more importantly clarifies where law enforcement focuses its attention.”

    While this is a good start when it comes to allowing marijuana businesses to operate the same as those in any other regulated industry, memos such as these can be ultimately overturned by future administrations. To make this change lasting and binding, Congress must now act to codify it into law. The Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act is currently pending before the House of Representatives and would do just that. You can click here to quickly and easily write your representative and urge him/her to support this important legislation.

    You can view the full text of the memo from FinCEN here. The DOJ memo can be viewed here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director January 24, 2014

    Federal officials are poised to unveil new regulations allowing for financial institutions to legally interact with licensed businesses that are engaged in cannabis commerce.

    United States Attorney General Eric Holder announced the forthcoming guidelines yesterday in a speech at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.

    “You don’t want just huge amounts of cash in these place. They (retail facilities that dispense cannabis) want to be able to use the banking system,” Holder said. “And so we (the Obama administration) will be issuing some regulations I think very soon to deal with that issue.”

    Presently, federal law discourages financial institutions from accepting deposits or providing banking services for facilities that engage in cannabis-related commerce because the plant remains illegal under the US Controlled Substances Act. While the Obama administration is unlikely to amend cannabis’ illegal status under federal law, the forthcoming rules are anticipated to provide clear guidelines for banks that wish to provide support for state-licensed cannabis facilities.

    In Colorado, where retail stores began legally selling cannabis on January 1 to anyone age 21 and older, businesses were estimated to have engaged in over $5 million in marijuana sales in their first week of business.

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