Gov’t lets banks, pot sellers do business

A worker processes marijuana in the trimming room at the Medicine Man dispensary and grow operation in northeast Denver. Colorado. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration on Friday gave banks a roadmap for doing business with legal marijuana sellers without getting into trouble, another step by the federal government toward enabling a legalized marijuana industry to operate in states that approve it.

The guidance issued by the Justice Department and Treasury Department is intended to increase the availability of financial services for legal marijuana businesses that are licensed and regulated, while preserving the government’s enforcement power.

Washington and Colorado in 2012 became the first states in the nation to approve recreational use of marijuana. A citizens’ group is hoping to make Alaska the third state in the nation to do so.

Currently, processing money from marijuana sales puts federally insured banks at risk of drug racketeering charges, and they therefore refuse to open accounts for marijuana-related businesses.

Friday’s move will allow banks and other financial institutions to serve marijuana-related businesses while ensuring that they know their customers’ legitimacy and remain obligated to report possible criminal activity, the Treasury Department said.

States’ legalization of marijuana prompted the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a Treasury Department office, “to move from the shadows the historically covert financial operations of marijuana businesses,” said office director Jennifer Shasky Calvery. “Our guidance provides financial institutions with clarity on what they must do if they are going to provide financial services to marijuana businesses and what reporting will assist law enforcement.”

FinCEN writes the rules that U.S. financial institutions must follow to help protect the U.S. financial system from money laundering and the financing of terrorism. The office said it expects financial institutions to perform thorough customer due diligence on marijuana businesses and file reports that will be valuable to law enforcement.

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