In a historic development in the marijuana industry, the federal government provided a set of guidelines to banks governing their dealings with marijuana dispensaries in the country. With these guidelines, banks finally had a clear set of policies that would help them serve one of the fastest growing industries in the United States–or so it would seem.
There are certain caveats, as well as specific issues that would have to be addressed before banks are allowed to deal with marijuana money en masse. Banks will begin to help the federal government define the scope and range of the marijuana industry. This will be done by way of regular reports detailing which accounts belonging to people involved in the marijuana industry,. Of course, banks will be required to report suspicious activities to federal authorities.
Although the release of these guidelines is a positive indicator of the increased acceptance of legal marijuana, they fall short of providing banks with a legally reliable mandate to begin dealing with marijuana business owners. For banks, which are under strict regulations, to accept medical marijuana money, there needs to be more than guidelines to ease their worries regarding criminal prosecution.
One bank that has yet to being dealing with legal dispensary owners is FirstBank. As executive VP Jim Reuter said, there is too much risk in taking the guidelines at face value. For Reuter and many others in the banking industry, the release of the guidelines do little to quell fears of criminal prosecution stemming from dealing with money derived by what the federal government still considers an illegal activity.
Others opt to take on a more cautiously optimistic approach. One such person is Rep. Jared Polis, who as a Boulder Democrat aims to change the legal status of marijuana from a controlled substance to a regulated substance along with alcohol and tobacco. Acknowledging the potential for development toward marijuana acceptance in the future, Polis warns that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in order to ensure that dispensary owners, and the banks that deal with them, will be free of the risk of prosecution.
Another Democrat, Arvada representative Ed Perlmutter is equally eager to see better marijuana laws. As a House banking committee member, Perlmutter aims to continue pushing for laws that will free banks from the burden of criminal prosecution when dealing with marijuana businesses.
At present, few banks are willing to be the first to take the bold step into providing for the banking needs of the marijuana industry. A set of guidelines is one thing, but what most bankers are really looking for is a definitive ruling that will lift the stigma of working with those involved in the marijuana industry.
With the tireless campaign of lawmakers such as Jared Polis and Ed Perlmutter, we may yet see a clearer and more definitive set of guidelines that will do away with the ambiguity of current marijuana laws once and for all.