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Bill signs bills

On Monday, Gov. Bill Ritter signed Senate Bill 109 and House Bill 1284, making Colorado the home of one of the largest state-regulated medical marijuana industries in the country.

"In my State of the State Address in January, I called on the legislature to work with my office, law enforcement, the medical marijuana community and other stakeholders to bring bipartisan, common-sense solutions to the chaotic proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries in communities all around Colorado," Ritter said in a statement. "The companion measures I signed today strike a delicate balance between protecting public safety and respecting the will of the voters."

The Senate bill dictates physician best practices, while the House bill gives explicit details on medical marijuana center ownership and caregiver-patient relationships. The latter also offers local municipalities the option to ban MMCs within their jurisdiction and is expected to draw a flurry of legal challenges.

In a later release, Sensible Colorado's Brian Vicente said the signing "serves to further legitimize the use of marijuana as medicine."

(See "Council OKs dispensaries" in Noted.)

Bank rolled at TCF

After perusing TCF Bank's website, it would be easy to assume the Minneapolis-based lender welcomes all comers: "As a result of TCF's community banking philosophy, we market our products and services to everyone in the communities we serve."

But unless the bank's talking about advertising, this statement is a lie.

As explained in a letter dated May 26, 2010, and sent to roughly 80 local MMJ-affiliated bank members (according to Tanya Garduno of the Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council): "TCF will no longer offer or maintain accounts for Medical Marijuana Dispensaries and other similar lines of business. ...

"TCF will be closing your account effective June 30, 2010. You are encouraged to close the account sooner if possible. ... We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and will work with you to transition your account."

Garduno says she has received no assistance in relocating her account, nor has any person who has contacted her for help. The letter gives no contact name and only a branch phone number.

Multiple requests for comment from the manager of TCF's Centennial Boulevard branch — cited for customer contact in its letter — only yielded repeated handoffs to corporate mouthpiece Jason Korstange, a veritable wealth of information.

Korstange says he doesn't know how many accounts were dismissed. He does assert, however, that the accounts were closed because "it's difficult to administer [them]."

Why? "Because of the number of transactions. I'm not going to go into the whole BSA [Bank Secrecy Act of 1970] for you," he says. "But it's a lengthy process that we have to go through when there's unusual transactions."

For the record, the BSA requires banks to track and report various activities in an attempt to combat money laundering. But what about MMJ-related transactions makes them unusual?

"What's unusual about them is a lot of them are cash, and other things," Korstange says, before finally acknowledging, "I don't know the full aspect of why [closure] happened."

Needless to say, Garduno and others are seeking friendlier waters, and recent events suggest they'll find them. The signing of House Bill 1284 — which notes that "a state chartered bank or a credit union may loan money to any person licensed pursuant to this article" — was a start locally. Additionally, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis recently wrote to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in support of "legitimate state-legal [MMJ] businesses [that] are being denied access to banking services."

Medimar minimized

Tom Sexton, co-owner of Pueblo's Medimar Ministry, was convicted in May of felony possession of marijuana, and he was sentenced to 18 months probation. Though Sexton is appealing the conviction — "I was sentenced for possessing that which I was legally allowed to cultivate," he says — some scrambling has been required to comply with the new state laws.

"As a precaution, as a result of Tom Sexton being a felon now, and the rules that are coming down by the state where felons are bad characters and can't participate in the industry, basically I just came off the ownership of Medimar," Sexton says.

"I'm now taken off as one of the owners of Medimar, and the capacity in which I serve now with Medimar is one of a volunteer consulting basis."

Besides his own fate, Sexton is concerned for MMJ patients in Pueblo.

"If Pueblo does not grant somebody local approval, there won't be any medicine in Pueblo for at least a year. That's what's missing for Medimar as well as anybody else who may have a desire to come into Pueblo," he says.

"Medimar has been in this conversation with Pueblo — paying their taxes, doing everything they can in order to serve the community — and at this point, Pueblo has yet to come out and say they approve of anybody."

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