Lew: All-cash pot stores pose `serious challenges' for feds

Rob HotakainenMcClatchy Washington Bureau

When Washington state begins selling legal marijuana next year, Democratic Rep. Denny Heck figures it will result in an infusion of $1 billion a year to the economy --- all in cash.

At a House hearing on Thursday, the Washington state Democrat told Treasury Secretary Jack Lew that the federal government needs to allow the state's new pot businesses to use banking services. That's currently illegal, since marijuana is still banned under federal law.

Heck says the businesses are sure to become targets for thieves.

"A billion dollars in cash floating around an economy, where the businesses, which otherwise legally operate, cannot access depository services, can't issue checks, can't receive credit card payments, in fact, all cash," Heck told Lew at a meeting of the House Financial Services Committee. "It is in fact, sir, an open invitation --- it is setting out the welcome mat to organized crime and disorganized crime."

Lew told Heck that the federal government will respond, but he did not say how or when.

"I recognize the serious challenges that are attended to this, and obviously when there are state laws and federal laws that are not consistent, it creates complicated decisions that have to be made," Lew said.

Heck wants Congress to pass his bill that that would allow state-approved marijuana businesses to use financial services, including banks and credit unions.


Rob Hotakainen
McClatchy Washington Bureau