GOP-led House gives marijuana businesses another boost

GOP-led House gives marijuana businesses another boost
Marijuana packaged for delivery is shown at Winterlife, a marijuana delivery service in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

When it comes to liberalizing marijuana policy, Congress has once again shown that it is not always the liberals taking the lead.

The GOP-dominated House on Wednesday delighted cannabis advocates by voting to prohibit law enforcement from going after banks for doing business with state-licensed marijuana growers and sellers.

The measure would be a boon to the marijuana business. Currently, banks fear taking on dispensaries and related companies as clients out of concern that the relationship puts them at risk of being a target for federal drug and treasury agents.

The banks had found little solace in recent assurances by the Obama administration that it had no plans to prosecute them for such relationships. Almost all continue to see too big a risk in getting involved with the rapidly growing pot sector.

That has left dispensaries and other marijuana businesses in a dangerous predicament, forced to keep massive amounts of cash on hand and hire private security firms to cart it off site.

In June, Denver police alerted local pot businesses that they had become aware that a group of criminals was conspiring to target the cash-rich companies throughout the metropolitan area.

In years past, proposals like the one the House approved Wednesday have failed to muster enough GOP votes to pass. But that changed in May, when dozens of Republicans voted in favor of an amendment to block the Drug Enforcement Administration from targeting medical marijuana businesses operating legally under state laws. The measure passed and it, too, is awaiting action in the Senate.

The GOP support reflects a shift in thinking on marijuana among some Republicans. The tea party, with its libertarian leanings, has given a boost to legalization efforts. Its members have been vocal in questioning whether the marijuana component of the war on drugs is an overreach of federal authority.

"These bipartisan votes clearly demonstrate we're at the marijuana tipping point," said a statement from Aaron Houston, strategist for the Ghost Group, which invests in marijuana-related businesses. "In a single month, we've seen the full House pass two positive measures."

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