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Denver leaders demand feds allow banks to work with marijuana businesses

Lines were once again large outside Evergreen Apothecary on Jan. 2, 2013, for the second day of legal recreational marijuana sales in Denver. Many had no luck on Jan. 1. (Photo: Twitter / Chris Jose)

Lines were once again large outside Evergreen Apothecary on Jan. 2, 2013, for the second day of legal recreational marijuana sales in Denver. Many had no luck on Jan. 1. (Photo: Twitter / Chris Jose)

DENVER — The Denver City Council is demanding that the federal government take steps to allow Colorado banks to take on marijuana businesses as customers.

By a 13-0 vote Monday, council members approved a proclamation urging “swift federal action” to help bank and other financial institutions serve legal marijuana operations.

“Please Washington, please grow up and let this business be a business and have a normal banking relationship like any other business,” said District 6 Councilman Charlie Brown. “This is absurd, this is ridiculous,” he added, referring to the current cash-only system.

By federal law, banks are not allowed to work with businesses that deal in controlled substances. That’s forced the marijuana industry to rely solely on cash for its transactions. Bank loans and credit cards are not an option. Many pot stores have hired armed guards.

“It’s keeping the business secure from burglaries, it’s protecting the consumers when they’re showing up with cash,” said Michael Elliott, Marijuana Industry Group Executive Director.

Until federal law is amended, the hands of Colorado’s banks are tied.

“The people of Colorado have spoken and this is the law we want to have,” said Don Childears, Colorado Bankers Association President. “It’s simply this issue of state and federal law being in conflict.”

Childears said federal regulators have told banks that know they have marijuana accounts to get rid of them right away. Only Congress will be able to make an exception for certain Colorado businesses.

“We want to make sure they hear us, sort of like Horton Hears a Who,” said District 7 Councilman Chris Nevitt, who introduced Monday’s proclamation. “All of us have to shout as loudly as possible so the elephant can hear what we’re trying to say.”