According to Fox News on Friday, the Obama administration provided new guidelines to the banking industry aimed at making it easier for state-legalized marijuana businesses to have greater access to financial institutions.
This 'guidance' is the latest step by the federal government toward enabling a legalized marijuana industry to operate in states that approve it. The intent is to make banks feel more comfortable working with marijuana businesses that are licensed and regulated.
Others have a keen interest, too, in a regulated financial pipeline for an industry that is just emerging from the underground. Marijuana businesses that can't use banks may have too much cash they can't safely put away, leaving them vulnerable to criminals. And governments that allow marijuana sales want a channel to receive taxes.
"The (Justice) department shares the concerns of public officials and law enforcement about the public safety risks associated with businesses that handle significant amounts of cash,'' said Allison Price, Justice spokeswoman. "These guidelines, together with the Treasury Department's guidance to financial institutions, are intended to increase the availability of financial services for marijuana businesses — that are licensed and regulated — while at the same time preserving and enhancing important law enforcement tools.''
But a leading financial services trade group immediately expressed misgivings.
"After a series of red lights, we expected this guidance to be a yellow one," said Don Childears, president and CEO of the Colorado Bankers Association. "This isn't close to that. At best, this amounts to 'serve these customers at your own risk' and it emphasizes all of the risks. This light is red."
Washington state and Colorado became the first states in the country to approve recreational use of pot.
Treasury officials said Friday that the new guidelines do not mean anybody is immune from prosecution. They stressed there is "no safe harbor created" for anybody to do business for this type of client.
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