Banks Allowed To Do Business With MJ Dispensaries
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Banks Allowed To Do Business With MJ Dispensaries
Posted by CN Staff on February 14, 2014 at 15:37:53 PT
By Andrew Grossman
Source: Wall Street Journal
Washington, D.C. -- Federal regulators will allow banks to provide financial services to marijuana-related businesses operating legally under state laws as long as lenders make regular reports to the Treasury Department and watch for suspicious activity.The guidance issued Friday by the Treasury, and developed with the Justice Department, is meant to help address concerns among banks about contradictory state and federal laws regarding marijuana. The drug is illegal under federal law, but 20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized it for certain uses, including Colorado and Washington state, where it is legal for recreational use.
The disparate legal approach has posed a problem for banks, which have been reluctant to make loans to and take deposits from legal pot dispensaries."We quite clearly say that it is possible to provide financial services to state-regulated marijuana businesses and still be in compliance with Bank Secrecy Act obligations," said a senior official at the Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, referring to the law aimed at keeping the proceeds of illicit activity out of the U.S. financial system. "We hope through this guidance that we're going to give more transparency of the marijuana business that is going on in this country and allow law enforcement to do their job."Some of the nation's largest banks, including J.P. Morgan Chase JPM +0.21%   & Co. and Wells Fargo WFC +0.33%   & Co., have existing policies not to provide banking services to marijuana businesses.A spokesman for Wells Fargo said the San Francisco-based lender is "reviewing the guidance." A spokesman for New York-based J.P. Morgan declined to comment.Banks have been wary of providing services to marijuana businesses given the push by the Justice Department and state regulators to prosecute lenders that don't sufficiently guard against the proceeds of illicit activity. The banks worry that a policy change that isn't enshrined in law could leave them open to prosecution."While we appreciate the efforts by the Department of Justice and FinCEN, guidance or regulation doesn't alter the underlying challenge for banks," said Frank Keating, chairman of the American Bankers Association, an industry lobbying group. "As it stands, possession or distribution of marijuana violates federal law, and banks that provide support for those activities face the risk of prosecution and assorted sanctions."Michael Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, which represents Colorado pot businesses, said, "We hope today's guidance will give banks the comfort they need to begin doing business with the legal marijuana industry in Colorado." The Treasury's guidance is the latest example of the Obama administration's willingness to tolerate state experiments with marijuana legalization. It comes after Deputy Attorney General James Cole said last summer that federal law enforcement wouldn't seek to prosecute marijuana businesses that comply with state law. But he said the federal government would take action in certain situations, such as if marijuana was being distributed to minors or states where it is illegal, or if guns or organized crime were involved.The legal marijuana industry praised those moves but said access to the banking system remained a problem, resulting in businesses holding large amounts of cash. Authorities worried about robberies and violence that could result if pot sellers end up with large sums of money. The new rules are designed to reduce that risk, a Justice Department official said.The guidelines could also give law enforcement a clearer window into the finances of marijuana businesses. Banks will be required to file reports with the Treasury for all marijuana-related customers, even if banks think the businesses are compliant with state and federal rules. They will have to report regularly on the activity in such customers' accounts.The Treasury also laid out a list of red flags that should trigger additional reports, such as evidence a customer is using a marijuana business to launder other money, criminal records of people involved in the business, or even a firm that says it is unrelated to pot depositing cash that smells like marijuana.Dan Fitzpatrick contributed to this article.Source: Wall Street Journal (US)Author:  Andrew GrossmanPublished: February 14, 2014Copyright: 2014 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.Contact: wsj.ltrs wsj.comWebsite:  -- Cannabis  Archives 
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