The US House of Representatives on Wednesday, July 16, voted to allow banks to work with marijuana businesses without fear of federal prosecution.
The budget amendment, which passed with a 231-192 vote with mostly Democratic support, would prohibit the US Department of Treasury from using any federal funds to penalize financial institutions that serve marijuana businesses operating legally under state law.
Marijuana businesses have been forced to run as cash-only operations even after state-legal retail sales began in Colorado and Washington, because banks were too scared to work with businesses that are still considered illegal under federal law. Marijuana legalization advocates and even some supporters of the war on drugs argued this set-up could potentially lead to more crime, since cash-only businesses could make easier targets for would-be robbers and thieves.
Marijuana industry advocates quickly praised the House's vote.
"This is a huge step forward for the legal cannabis industry," National Cannabis Industry Association executive director Aaron Smith said in a statement. "Access to basic banking services is one of the most critical challenges facing legal cannabis businesses and the state agencies tasked with regulating them."
This isn't the first pro-marijuana vote in the House in 2014. In June, the House passed another budget amendment that would block the Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Administration from using funds to prevent states from implementing their own medical marijuana laws.
Like the other House-passed bills, the banking bill's chances remain unclear. Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced an amendment that would echo the House-passed bill protecting states' medical marijuana laws, but the broader bill the amendment is attached to has been stalled by partisan wrangling over Senate procedures.
Update: Added more context about the vote.