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Members Of Congress Ask Treasury Secretary To Let Pot Shops Open Bank Accounts

Fifteen members of congress, including a few from Southern California, recently wrote a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner requesting that he tell banks to lay off the accounts of medical marijuana dispensaries that operate in states where the drug is legal, the group Americans for Safe Access announced Monday.

The letter, whose signatories include Huntington Beach Republican Dana Rohrabacher, Van Nuys Democrat Brad Sherman and Cerritos Democrat Linda Sanchez, not to mention high-profile representatives such as Barney Frank and Ron Paul, implores Geithner to offer "written guidance for financial institutions" in their dealings with state-legal pot shops.

ASA contends that Bank of America, US Bank, Wells Fargo and Chase have either refused to open accounts for medical marijuana providers or have denied such businesses necessary credit-card and debit terminals. Some banks, the organization states, have even closed accounts after discovering the nature of the business.

Some banks, the ASA states, have argued that they could be held liable for money laundering if the pot shops were prosecuted for selling drugs under federal law. However, the Obama administration essentially put an end to federal enforcement of marijuana laws in states where pot shops are legal.

Thus, the congressional representatives want to see a federal policy that would allow banks to offer services to pot shops without such liability. The letter makes three arguments in favor of a national policy allowing pot shops to obtain banking services: Those that don't have such services have a lot of cash on-hand and become robbery targets; banking leaves a paper trail for tax reporting; and having a cash-only policy could create a situation where large transactions would go unreported -- thus encouraging or at least leaving an opening for money laundering.

It "seems clear that legitimate state-legal businesses are being denied access to banking services, which does not serve the public interest," stated the letter.