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House Gives Thumbs-Up to Marijuana Banking

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The House of Representatives gave a thumbs-up Wednesday to allowing the marijuana industry into the banking system.

The legislation, which passed by a 231-192 margin, would prohibit the use of federal funds to penalize banks and credit unions for providing financial services to state-licensed pot businesses.

It is unclear if the measure will make a difference for banks and credit unions that are weighing the risks involved with serving the pot business. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but numerous states have legalized its medicinal or recreational use, and that conflict puts banks in a difficult position.

Still, the House vote marks another step in the direction of bringing marijuana enterprises into the financial mainstream. In February, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network released guidance for banks interested in serving the pot industry.

The House measure passed with the support of 186 Democrats and 45 Republicans, and was hailed by the marijuana industry as a landmark. "This is a huge step forward for the legal cannabis industry," Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, said in a news release.

The legislation, which was introduced as an amendment to a financial services appropriations bill, has yet to pass in the Senate. The House version was sponsored by Democratic Reps. Denny Heck, Ed Perlmutter and Barbara Lee and GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher.

A competing amendment, which would have blocked the implementation of the Fincen guidance on marijuana, was defeated by a 236-186 margin.

Since recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado and Washington state, a coalition that includes the pot industry, elected officials, and law enforcement agencies in those states have been calling for marijuana businesses to be brought into the banking system.

They argue that as long as pot enterprises operate as cash-only businesses, they are susceptible to threats such as armed robbery and money laundering.

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