Colorado's senators urge feds to protect financial institutions that deal with marijuana businesses

DENVER – Colorado’s U.S. senators on Thursday continued their bipartisan push to protect Colorado’s legal marijuana programs, sending a letter to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network urging it to continue to protect financial institutions that work with legal pot businesses.

The letter was sent by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) to Kenneth Blanco, the director of FinCEN, and asked that he retain the February 2014 guidance that allowed banks and other institutions to work with marijuana businesses as long as those businesses were operating within state law.

FinCEN had to ensure state laws were being followed, that businesses were communicating with the network, and that suspicious activity involving any of the dispensaries or businesses was reported and monitored.

Though it said nothing about the legal status of marijuana, the guidance proved helpful for dispensaries that had until then been operating on a cash-only basis, which led to burglaries and robberies in Colorado.

“We fear that repealing the 2014 Guidance will push more businesses toward cash, which may raise public safety issues and reduce the oversight and transparency of marijuana transactions,” the senators wrote in the letter. “Repealing the 2014 Guidance could also hinder efficient use of law enforcement resources.”

The senators further asked to meet with Blanco to discuss the guidance.

Both have been lock-step in opposition to new Justice Department guidance announced last week by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that rescinded the Cole Memo, which protected states with legal marijuana programs from extraneous federal law enforcement.

Sessions’ new guidance says that enforcement will be left up to local US attorneys. Bob Troyer, the US Attorney for Colorado, has said little will change in Colorado.

But both Gardner and Bennet written to Sessions and have been in meetings with fellow senators and members of Congress to figure out what can be done either by the DOJ or in Congress to ensure the state’s marijuana businesses are protected.

Gardner is also holding up Justice Department nominees until Sessions rescinds his latest order, saying Sessions broke a promise he made to Gardner ahead of his confirmation as attorney general.

A bloc of members of Congress from Colorado also sent a letter to Sessions urging him to reinstate the Cole Memo.

In addition to Thursday’s letter, Gardner and Bennet are both cosponsoring a bill introduced last year that would bar federal regulators from stopping or penalizing a bank from working with legal marijuana businesses or taking away FDIC approval from said banks. It would also stop banks and regulators from barring loans to people operating legal marijuana businesses.

Part of the congressional delegation upset with Sessions’ new guidance—Reps. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.)—also introduced a bill last year that revises the Controlled Substance Act to keep the federal government out of state marijuana programs.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) has also introduced bills aimed at protecting marijuana; one would have the government regulate marijuana like alcohol.

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