WASHINGTON — Democratic lawmakers in favor of legitimizing marijuana business are not being discouraged by comments from the Trump administration indicating that it may pursue a federal crackdown in states where pot is legal.
During his nomination hearing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said federal laws that designate marijuana as illegal should be enforced. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer recently reiterated a modified view of that statement, drawing a distinction between medical and recreational use.
But recreational use has been legalized in eight states and the District of Columbia. Many businesses in the industry have struggled to gain banking services as banks and credit unions fear a federal crackdown.
Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., who represents one of the states with legalized recreational use, said that the experience in Washington has been "highly successful" and that he and other lawmakers are "going to continue to pursue a full-blown access to banking services bill just as we have in the last two years."
Because marijuana businesses lack the same access to financial services as other businesses, they are often forced to operate using mostly cash which can make them targets for criminals.
Heck pointed to former Marine Travis Mason, who was murdered last year while working security detail for a marijuana dispensary when an attempted robbery went bad, as one of the reasons that federal law should be clarified.
Heck also added that the public has continued to move in favor of legalizing marijuana, with California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada all passing measures in November to legalize recreational use.
"I don't think we are going back," Heck said while speaking on the sidelines of the Credit Union National Association government affairs conference. "I think pretty clearly public sentiment has done nothing but increase in its support of a well-regulated, legal cannabis market."
Ironically, Heck, who is on the House Financial Services Committee, said Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., his former committee colleague and President Trump's head of the Office of Management and Budget, was ready to support legislation to improve access to financial services for marijuana businesses before being tapped for the post.
But, Heck said, "We are talking to other people on the other side of the aisle about who can take up championship" of a bill.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, speaking Sunday to NBC, also questioned whether the federal government would be able to supersede state law.
"I opposed" the legalization of marijuana, Hickenlooper said. "But our voters passed it 55-45. It's in our Constitution."
"It's interesting, it's the sovereignty — the states have a sovereignty just like the Indian tribes, just like the federal government does," Hickenlooper said.