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Colorado adopts new rules governing legal marijuana, relaxes banking rules

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Greg Campbell Contributor
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Colorado adopted the country’s first official rules for regulating a still-federally-prohibited recreational marijuana industry this week.

A Senate committee also heard testimony that would relax some federal red tape around how pot businesses can manage their money.

The state regulations fill 136 pages and govern everything from marijuana product packaging, to restrictions on who can own a pot shop, to how transactions are monitored to guard against diversion to minors and other states.

“These rules are designed not to make the operation of Retail Marijuana Establishments unreasonably impracticable, but also promote public safety and ensure compliance with constitutional and statutory guidelines,” reads the cover letter to the regulations, which were adopted by the state Department of Revenue.

“Above all, though, these rules accomplish the state of Colorado’s guiding principle through this process: to create a robust regulatory and enforcement environment that protects public safety and prevents diversion of Retail Marijuana to individuals under the age of 21 or to individuals outside the state of Colorado.”

Meanwhile, Deputy U.S. Attorney General David Cole met with a Senate subcommittee about relaxing banking rules that have kept most major banks from dealing with marijuana businesses. Those restrictions prevent financial institutions from conducting business with companies that violate federal law. Despite recent assurances that federal law enforcement will look the other way on this matter, selling pot is still illegal under federal laws.

Being banned from banks has lead to innumerable headaches for marijuana businesses, including being forced to deal with large amounts of cash — which can prove to be tempting targets for criminals — and not being able to take credit cards for sales.

“It would be so much easier to audit the books, make sure taxes are being paid, make sure stores are following the rules we put in place if they are able to work with banks,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper’s chief legal counsel Jack Finlaw, who testified before the committee.

The hearings were the second occasion in just a week for marijuana advocates to rejoice. They celebrated last week when Cole sent a memo to the Justice Department’s federal prosecutors saying the feds would lay off Colorado and Washington — the only states that have legalized marijuana — so long as they have robust regulations in place to prevent smuggling, underage consumption and other measures.

“The Department of Justice is finally taking seriously the dangers that a lack of access to simple banking services poses to consumers, employees and business owners,” said Aaron Smith, the executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, in a statement. ‘We are encouraged that the growing consensus among essentially all stakeholders is that banking access must be available to legal businesses. It portends a quick reform to this dangerous and unnecessary situation.”

Colorado’s new rules will regulate the retail sale of marijuana to those 21 and older. The first pot shops are expected to open as soon as January 1.

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