US regulators, banking industry set talks to for guidelines on marijuana banking

By Nicel Jane Avellana

Nov 20, 2013 06:44 PM EST

The US Treasury Department and the banking industry will be meeting next month to discuss how banks should treat legalized marijuana businesses in some states. A report from Thomson Reuters Accelus revealed that although pot shops have been given authority to operate in some states, a lot of banks do not want to work with them. The avoidance stems from fear that the lenders might be charged with federal authorities for not obeying federal rules or for money laundering. They are unsure of the risks they face even if a memo from the Justice Department enforcing the marijuana policy provided deference to state law regarding the matter.

The banking industry has been urging US regulators to clarify the issue. Jennifer Shasky Calvery, the Director of the Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, posed the question about the memo, "Does it implicate financial services and if so, how, and what if anything should we do in reaction to that?"

However, concerns about the limitations of the guidance given by regulators still lead others to ask about the federal prohibition of marijuana. A lawyer from the American Bankers Association, Rob Rowe, said although the industry is appreciative of the additional guidance on the subject, it still does not change the fact that there is a fundamental prohibition. Colorado Bankers Association Senior Vice President Jennifer Waller said that unless there is a change in the federal law, the guidance would have limited value. She said, "We have several members who would be very anxious to bank the marijuana industry, but have been told they cannot, You really have to rely on what the law says."

The report cited a study which valued the medical marijuana business at USD 1.7 billion two years ago. Marijuana has been legalized in Colorado and Washington states. The District of Columbia and 19 other states allow the use of medical marijuana in some form.

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