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Watch live: the first marijuana hearing about the new congress

The first marijuana hearing of the 116th Congress began on Wednesday. A financial subcommittee of the House asked to testify how bank access can improve the safety of the population, how to operate on the basis of cash only, and, at a certain moment, whether the money in these companies smells like cannabis.

"The absence of a broader, permanent regulatory framework keeps virtually all banks out of this growing sector, despite a clear interest," said Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), chairman of the subcommittee, at the beginning of the session. "Today's hearing will allow us to begin studying draft legislation to address transparency, accountability and a major perpetrator of violent crime in this space."

Prior to the hearing, a bipartisan group of legislators circulated a bill that would protect banks against the sanctioning by federal financial regulators and that the profit from cannabis-related transactions "will not be considered as revenue from an illegal activity".

"Today, after six years, we finally have a hearing, and it's coming too late," Rep said. Denny Heck (D-WA), co-legislator of the legislation, in his introductory remarks. "Too late to prevent dozens of armed robberies in my home state of Washington, too late for Travis Mason … a 24-year-old Navy veteran in Aurora, Colorado, who reported on June 18, 2016 for work as a security guard and Green Heart Dispensary and that night by an armed robber was shot dead. "

"We have the power in this committee to prevent murders and armed robberies," he said, referring to the fact that preventing marijuana companies from gaining access to banks means they have to operate on an all-cash basis. "We have to use it and we have to use it now because we are already late."

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), another co-sponsor, said that if lawmakers are against legalization, "that's their business."

"But American voters have spoken and keep talking, and the fact is that you can not put the spirit back in the bottle," he said. "The ban is over."

Witnesses at the hearing included California State Treasurer Fiona Ma, Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP) executive director Major Neill Franklin, bank representatives, a DC-based medical marijuana pharmacy holder and the chair of the anti-legalization group Smart Marijuana Approaches (SAM ).

"The Committee is unquestionably aware that cannabis companies are not the only ones who have difficulty accessing the banking system, even if it is the most difficult situation for them, because any company that processes significant amounts of currency will also reviewed for all the reasons that the members of this committee understand, "Ma said in a written statement.

She said: "An effective safe harbor mechanism in federal law promotes public safety, improves the efficiency of collecting the taxes and fees we use to regulate the sector, and does not allow banks and credit unions to fully distance themselves. of their responsibilities to know their customers and avoid illegal money laundering. "

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) said he was happy to see Ma testify. Legal marijuana "is here to stay and entrepreneurs and consumers earn safe banking," he wrote on Twitter.

Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) repeated that point and said that Nevada is "proof that the era of marijuana control is over" and that it is "time for the federal government to behave like that".

Franklin, a retired Policeman from Maryland, said the current laws "encourage tax fraud, encourage expensive monitoring and accounting spending, and – more importantly – leave legitimate businesses vulnerable to theft, theft and the violence associated with those crimes."

"I am not someone who sows fear – what I testify here today is rooted in experience and research," he said. "Every policeman who has worked in the street or has investigated enough robberies will bear the same testimony on every company that is forced to handle large amounts of cash."

He told the members of the subcommittee that the "safety of thousands of employees, business owners, security personnel, police officers and members of the community is in your hands".

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), chairman of the full House Financial Services Committee, thanked Meeks for being the first subcommittee to hear the session and called the issue "so important".

"There are so many people waiting for it," Waters said before the subcommittee broke for a break. "I appreciate it so much."

The hearing was well attended, as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) stressed in a tweet that shows a row of people who keep queues in front of lobbyists and "those who can afford it, pay people to hold their spot."

During the hearing, Ocasio-Cortez asked whether offering banking access to the marijuana industry would "increase the racial prosperity gap at the moment", which means that mainly white, wealthy entrepreneurs would benefit from people from communities who were disproportionately affected by the drug war.

Corey Barnette, owner of DC marijuana, said he agreed that the industry as it exists today is not a reflection of society as a whole, but he also argued that access to banks could provide even smaller potential entrepreneurs with means "within reach" to start a cannabis business.

During one of the lighter moments at the hearing, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) to Barnette or the money in his pharmacy to smoke marijuana.

"I've heard it's true," Tlaib said. "The money smells, right?"

"That has been the case in some cases," replied Barnette.

While SAM chairman Jonathon Talcott was rarely addressed by members during the hearing, Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX) the witness or "a universally accepted fact is that marijuana is not a gateway drug and does not have any negative negative consequences for the public."

Talcott claimed that cannabis "is clearly a gateway drug" and wrote anecdotes about "marijuana-induced psychosis" in states that have legalized.

Heck, one of the co-founders of the banknotes, expressed his motivation to be in favor of legislation on financial services solutions for the marijuana industry. He said it was his brother who died after being exposed to herbicides while serving in the Vietnam War.

"By the end of his life, the only relief he could find was from the illegal consumption of marijuana," Heck said. "I have always thought and lived with the irony that the same nation who asked my brother to wear uniforms and put his life in jeopardy – during an activity that ultimately lasted his life – considered him a criminal when he found the relief in the only way he could. "

And if creating a guarantee for banks makes it easier for marijuana companies to provide that aid to patients, then that is reason enough to fight for reform, Heck said.

"The Congress has an opportunity to make a simple policy change that will benefit communities and small businesses by approving the reform of cannabis banking," said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, in a press release. "Representatives Perlmutter and Heck should be praised for insisting on this hearing, so that this problem gets the attention it deserves and we can pursue a meaningful policy that will increase public safety and transparency in this fast-growing industry."

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who published a blueprint outlining the legislative path towards legalization of marijuana, said in a press release that tackling "access to the banking problem" is "one of the first dominoes that should fall".

The hearing shows that Congress "is finally making progress in addressing the irrational, unfair and insecure refusal of regular banking services for legal marijuana companies across the country," he said.

"Today's hearing was a big problem for the thousands of workers, businesses and communities in this country who have been put in jeopardy because they are forced to trade in stacks of cash while Congress is putting its head in the sand," Perlmutter, the other bill cosponsor, said in a press release. "The American electorate has spoken and continues to talk, and the fact is that you can not put the spirit back in. The SAFE Banking Act is focused solely on taking money off the streets and making our communities safer, and only Congress can take these steps to provide this assurance to companies and financial institutions across the country. "

"Today we have listened to witness statements about the dangerous situation in which we have placed shop owners and employees by forcing them to do all their business in cash, we can solve this, we do not have to force them to operate in ways that make it difficult to secure and keep their money, "added Heck. "Regardless of our opinion about the use of marijuana, voters in countries around the country have decided that they want recreational and medicinal markets, and nothing to protect public safety would be negligence."

This Is The Marijuana Banking Bill Democrats Plan to Pass In 2019: Concept text released

Photo courtesy of the House Financial Services Committee / YouTube.

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