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  • By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

House panel OKs bill to facilitate banking for pot businesses

A congressional panel has voted to approve the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act, which would provide a safe harbor for financial institutions serving marijuana-related businesses.

The passage of H.R. 1595, if signed into law, would clear an impediment to the establishment of marijuana-related businesses in U.S. jurisdictions where medical and recreational use is legal.

Also known as SAFE Banking Act, H.R. 1595 passed the House Financial Services Committee by a vote of 45-15 on Thursday.

The bill would also extend to Guam and pave the way for a marijuana industry on the island if Sen. Clynt Ridgell’s Bill 32-35 is signed into law.

Bill 32-35, which passed the Guam Legislature on a split vote of 8-7 last week, is now awaiting Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero’s action.

Recreational use of marijuana is legal in 10 states and medical marijuana is legal in 33. But under federal law, marijuana remains a controlled substance, hence pot use, possession and dealing is still a federal crime.

Prior to the passage of Bill 32-35, Attorney Genera Leevin Camacho warned that until the SAFE Banking Act is enacted, “any Guam businesses that sell marijuana would face daunting problems with the handling and reporting of their revenue. It would be prudent to figure out how the public safety concerns that often accompany cash-only businesses will be addressed.”

He noted that the jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana use have grappled with this issue. “Some states have found it within ethical practice to assist in the interpretation of state laws authorizing marijuana use,” Camacho said.

Camacho also noted another potential problem that private lawyers might into if tasked to assist government agencies and businesses looking to engage in marijuana-related activities.

“The local rules governing the professional conduct of attorneys prohibit a lawyer from counseling or assisting a client in criminal conduct,” Camacho said.

H.R. 1595 seeks to iron out the conflict with banking transactions by prohibiting a federal banking regulator from imposing restrictions on banks that accept deposits from legitimate marijuana-related businesses.

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