In a 21 - 10 vote, the Senate Appropriations Committee tabled an amendment that would have shielded financial institutions dealing with state legal cannabis businesses from being punished by federal regulatory authorities.
In the brief debate on the topic, reported Forbes, Senator Jeff Merkley argued that forcing marijuana businesses to continue operating in cash-only is a big problem and only good for organized crime, money laundering, theft and larceny, and cheating on taxes and payroll.
“We're really facilitating crime by not enabling the banking industry to provide basic services,” said the Oregon Democrat.
Other Democratic members of the Senate panel who support the idea of cannabis companies having access to banking services objected to the measure on procedural grounds. Merkley wanted to attach the amendment to the Fiscal Year 2019 Financial Services and General Government funding bill.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), for example, said he wanted to keep spending legislation "free of new controversial policy riders."
Two other democrats also opposed the move: Senators Christopher Coons (D-DE) and Jon Tester (D-MT).
"I've supported it in the past and I think it's different today," Tester said. "It adds a level of confusion to the folks who are out there doing business." He added that it would give a "false hope" to cannabis providers because it only deals with the Department of the Treasury and not the Justice Department.
"Do I think these businesses ought to be able to bank?" he asked. "Absolutely."
Legalization advocates were upset by the committee's decision.
"The Senate Appropriations Committee chose to bury its head in the sand rather than make it easier for licensed and regulated marijuana businesses to operate safely, transparently or effectively," Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Forbes. "It's absurd."