Liberal Democrats from states with looser marijuana policies are starting to line up behind the Obama administration's plans to allow banks to do business with cannabis sellers.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., is applauding comments Attorney General Eric Holder made Thursday signaling plans to roll out regulations that would enable marijuana businesses to have access to the banking system.
"Attorney General Holder and the Obama administration are unquestionably making the right call by allowing banks to work with legal marijuana businesses,” Blumenauer said in a statement Friday.
“If these businesses are unable to participate in the banking system, they have to operate with all cash, which invites criminality. It's an important step toward fixing federal policy toward marijuana.”
The next step Holder should make to decriminalize pot smoking, Blumenauer said, is to remove marijuana from the list of banned substances in the Controlled Substance Act, the law passed in 1970 that bars the manufacture, importation, possession, use and distribution of certain narcotics.
“I am circulating a letter with my congressional colleagues to send to the president asking him to do just that,” Blumenauer said.
In a speech at the University of Virginia Thursday, Holder stressed the importance of allowing places that sell marijuana to have access to banks. Right now, any money that exchanges hands in marijuana sales puts federally insured banks at risk of drug-racketeering charges. Current law also makes state sales-tax collection for cannabis sales difficult.
"You don't want just huge amounts of cash in these places," Holder told the audience at the University of Virginia. "They want to be able to use the banking system. And so we will be issuing some regulations I think very soon to deal with that issue."
Holder's deputy, James Cole, made similar comments in September during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
Colorado and Washington State recently have made recreational use of marijuana legal. Twenty other states and D.C. have enacted laws lifting some restrictions on the medical use of marijuana.
Obama voiced support for the states' legalization of the drug in a long and wide-ranging interview with the New Yorker magazine published Sunday.
On Colorado and Washington's decision to make pot use legal, Obama said that “it’s important for it to go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.”
“Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” Obama said. “… And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties.”