Medical Marijuana Patients Hail Landmark Victory with Another Unprecedented Vote in Congress Budget bill amendment would restrict Treasury funds from being used to interfere in medical marijuana states

July 16, 2014 | Kris Hermes

Washington, D.C. -- Medical marijuana patients hailed another landmark victory today when the U.S. House voted 231-192 to restrict Department of Treasury funds from "being used to prohibit or penalize a financial institution from providing services to a marijuana-related business that engages in activities permissible under state or local laws." The amendment to the financial services budget bill was introduced by Representatives Denny Heck (D-WA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), and Barbara Lee (D-CA), and won an unprecedented number of votes for a medical marijuana issue.

The burgeoning medical marijuana industry has endured years of resistance from the banking and financial services industry mainly due to the threat of federal interference. Most of the major banks, including Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Citigroup, have refused to work with medical marijuana businesses despite a memo issued by Treasury earlier this year. This refusal has forced thousands of medical marijuana producers, manufacturers, and distributors to resort to cash-only businesses, putting them and the patients that use their services at greater risk of harm.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), a Treasury agency, has for years selectively audited dozens, and possibly hundreds, of medical marijuana businesses, under a little-known provision of the tax code that forces criminal enterprises to pay taxes on their gross revenue. Despite following all local and state laws, dispensaries in California and Colorado are still being audited under Tax Code Section 280e, meant for cartels and large criminal enterprises. The Heck-Rohrabacher-Perlmutter-Lee amendment would arguably curb these audits and give the banking industry the go-ahead to service medical marijuana businesses.

"An overwhelming number of House members are telling the Obama Administration to stop meddling in state and local medical marijuana laws," said Mike Liszewski, Government Affairs Director with Americans for Safe Access, which has been lobbying Congress on these measures. "Today's vote should also be a clear signal to the U.S. Senate that they, too, should respect medical marijuana laws across the country."

The House also made an historic 186-236 vote to reject an amendment introduced by Representatives John Fleming (R-LA) and Andy Harris (R-MD) to the same budget bill, which would have prohibited Treasury from implementing the guidance issued earlier this year that allows banks to service medical marijuana businesses, in opposition to the Heck-Rohrabacher-Perlmutter-Lee amendment.

Today's vote comes just two months after the House voted to restrict Department of Justice (DOJ) enforcement in medical marijuana states as an amendment to the Commerce, Science & Justice (CJS) budget bill. The then-unprecedented 219-189 vote signaled a sea change in Congress, according to advocates, and today's vote has surpassed the level of support seen in May. A similar CJS amendment has been filed by U.S. Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), but has not yet come up for a vote. A vote on a CJS amendment in the Senate is expected later this summer.

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