It’s probably unusual for political contributors to thank a candidate for taking their money, but that’s what Mike Elliott, executive director for the Marijuana Industry Group, did at a pot-industry fundraiser for Rep. Ed Perlmutter last month.
“We really appreciate the fact we can come here and show you how much we appreciate you showing up and talking about it and giving you donations,” Elliott told Perlmutter, D-Colo., and a group of about 50 marijuana business owners. “We want to do what every other industry does and, as time goes by, the fear of the unknown is going away and more people are going to be following your footsteps.”
As Elliott spoke, organizers were collecting envelopes filled with contribution checks.
Perlmutter was there to talk about his legislation that would allow the industry to deposit pot proceeds, which are legal under Colorado law but still raise money laundering concerns with banks because marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
“I want to thank everyone for being willing to step up and help me,” Perlmutter said. “I have been talking about the banking problem because you got the federal law going one direction and the state law, especially in Colorado and Washington, going the other direction.”
The enforcement of federal banking laws remains hazy. Richard Collins, who teaches constitutional law at the University of Colorado, says the Obama administration has told banks that they can accept marijuana money if the businesses comply with state law and make sure the drugs don’t get into the hands of children or leave the state. Most banks have refused the deposits, determining they can’t monitor the actions of their depositors that closely.
But Collins said he doesn’t believe political candidates have to monitor their contributors.
“As long as the activity within the state is legal, the contribution is legal,” he said.
Federal Election Commission rules prohibit candidates from taking money from corporations, unions, national banks, government contractors and foreign entities, but do not address proceeds from a business that might operate legally in states but violate federal laws. In an email exchange, a spokeswoman wrote the FEC has not received any requests for legal guidance about marijuana contributions.
Meanwhile, Perlmutter’s not alone in taking contributions, or in wanting to loosen federal marijuana laws.
Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., also sponsored a bill that would help the industry. The bill would prohibit federal officials from enforcing the Controlled Substances Act in states that have legalized marijuana.
And in past two years, Federal Election Commission records show total pot-related contributions — either from industry PACs or individuals who operate marijuana-related businesses — to Colorado federal candidates were about $20,000. It is nearly impossible to determine a comprehensive amount because only a handful of contributors note their marijuana connections on FEC forms, but Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., has collected the most marijuana money so far, according to Watchdog.org’s review of FEC records.
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