DENVER — A divisive plan to create the world’s first financial system for marijuana came back to life in the Colorado Legislature Friday, when lawmakers revived a bill sponsors called the state’s best hope for moving the marijuana industry away from its all-cash basis.
The proposal would allow marijuana dispensaries to form financial cooperatives, sort of uninsured credit unions. The co-ops would take effect only if the U.S. Federal Reserve agrees to allow them to access payment systems.
“This is an important bill to move our state forward,” said House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, arguing that pot shops’ inability to access financial services like basic checking accounts makes the new industry hard to regulate.
The pot industry’s dilemma accessing banking services as basic as checking accounts is a widely acknowledged problem. But guidance issued by the U.S. Treasury Department in February to help the problem appears to have only made the situation worse, with banks calling the guidelines onerous.
Republicans in the House argued vigorously against the banking bill, calling it a long-shot pipe dream. Others groused that the proposal is being rushed. It was introduced on Wednesday, a week before the Legislature concludes for the year.
“This is a three-ring circus,” said Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone. “This is clowns coming out of the circus car.”
Sponsors acknowledged the plan was a long-shot attempt to again try to move the marijuana away from its cash-only roots without running afoul of federal law. Colorado has struggled for years to find ways to help its pot industry access banks, and Democratic backers fought back GOP attempts to turn the proposal into a study. A similar plan was abandoned as unworkable two years ago.
“We have studied this thing to death,” Ferrandino said.
This year’s bill awaits a final House vote next week. After that, the bill must clear the Senate before hitting the governor’s desk. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper supports the bill.