Do more for bank access

The OlympianFebruary 20, 2014 

USA-MARIJUANA/BANKING

A bag of marijuana being prepared for sale sits next to a money jar at BotanaCare in Northglenn, Colorado in this file photo taken December 31, 2013. The Obama administration made it easier on Friday for banks to do business with licensed marijuana companies with less fear of prosecution, further encouraging U.S. states that are experimenting with legalization of the drug. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/Files

RICK WILKING — REUTERS

Two federal departments have issued new guidance policies that might make it easier for marijuana entrepreneurs in Washington and Colorado to do business with banks and credit unions.

The announcement by the Treasury and Justice departments falls short of promising immunity to bankers who do business with players in the emerging recreational marijuana business approved by voters in the two states last year.

But the policies do open the door slightly to the possibility that the legal marijuana trade won’t have to be a cash-only enterprises.

While the sale and use of marijuana still is illegal under federal law, the new policies governing how federal prosecutors treat banks and credit unions might be enough for some financial institutions to do business with potential customers in the marijuana trade.

In a nutshell, banks and credit unions would have to closely monitor marijuana-based customers to ensure their operating licenses are valid. They also would be required to continually check accounts for any suspicious activity to avoid criminal prosecution for money laundering.

Initial reaction from the banking and credit union representatives is cautious at best. They all say they will review the guidance thoroughly before deciding whether to do business with the blossoming marijuana trade.

It’s likely some banks will seize the opportunity to be the first to work in what could be a lucrative niche market.

This is a small, first step toward financial credibility for legalized marijuana sales. But Congress should take action to truly open the doors to an unfettered business relationship between financial institutions and the marijuana industry by supporting the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act co-sponsored by Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia.

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