Gov. Jay Inslee and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson asked a U.S. Senate committee for a key bit of help in creating a tightly regulated legal pot market.
In written testimony submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee for a Tuesday hearing, Inslee and Ferguson stressed that without changes at the federal level, Washington state’s legal pot merchants will operate on a cash-only basis.
That will make it more difficult for the state to audit their books and track their income, the duo said, and make legal businesses a target for theft and burglary, “thereby creating additional public safety challenges.”
As it now stands, federally regulated banks are wary of providing financial services to legal pot merchants, Inslee and Ferguson said, because federal law can impose penalties on banks that accept money they know to come from drug sales — even if those sales are legal under state law.
Inslee and Ferguson suggested two fixes: the federal Department of Justice could advise banking regulators that it isn’t going to prosecute banks for handling legal pot money; or, Congress could also pass a law allowing banks to accepts deposits from a legal pot business.
The rest of their four-page testimony details the many ways in which Washington state’s legal pot rules are consistent with the DOJ’s eight priorities for legal pot in Washington and Colorado — from preventing youth access to legal pot, to preventing Washington pot from leaking into other states.
Tuesday’s hearing is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Pacific time. The committee chaired by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT., will begin by questioning U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole. It would be no surprise for the banking issue to come up in that portion of the hearing. Then, the hearing on “Conflicts in State and Federal Marijuana Laws” will address a panel of three: King County Sheriff John Urquhart; Jack Finlaw, the top lawyer for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper; and Kevin Sabet, the director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an organization that’s opposed to legalization.