Federal officials, financial industry representatives meet to address marijuana banking crisis

Dec 14, 2013 No Comments

The federal Bank Secrecy Act Advisory Group met December 12 for a “frank discussion” among federal regulators, financial industry representatives, and members of law enforcement regarding the banking crisis for state-legal marijuana businesses.

According to Jennifer Shasky Calvery, director of the federal Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN),  FinCEN and other Treasury Department groups have begun conversations with the Department of Justice. The Bank Secrecy Act Advisory Group advises the Director of FinCEN on the operations of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and is the means by which modifications to BSA regulations are considered. Current BSA regulations require banks to file “Suspicious Activity Reports” any time a transaction of $5,000 or more takes place if the financial institution has reason to believe that it may be connected to illegal activity. This requirement is the core policy creating an impediment to marijuana businesses securing and maintaining bank accounts.

A September Senate Judiciary Committee hearing reinforced the growing consensus among federal  and state officials that the lack of access to banking services is now the most pressing obstacle to ensuring  governments can control marijuana sales in the states where it is legal for medical or adult use and federal enforcement priorities can be upheld. Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) was particularly aggressive in his push for a solution to the problem, urging U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole to fix the problem before we have a “shoot out somewhere and have innocent people or law enforcement endangered by that.”

Though little is expected to result immediately from this meeting and details remain under wraps, it clearly indicates that a growing group of lawmakers and regulators are aware that excluding a billion-dollar legal market from banking services is untenable.

Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, addressed the problem in a statement to the media, saying, “Without access to basic banking services, many legitimate cannabis businesses are forced to manage sales, payroll, and even tax bills entirely in cash. That puts their customers, employees, and fellow community members at completely unnecessary risk. Everyone agrees that the situation is untenable; the Treasury Department and the Department of Justice must act and act quickly. The tide of public opinion is turning ever more quickly in support of regulated marijuana markets and, in 2014, at least six states will be implementing new regulations for these markets. It is long past time for the federal government to stop putting citizens in harm’s way by denying legally recognized businesses access to secure banking services.”

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