Cannabis Business Banking. When, When, When? | Canna Law Blog™
Friday, Feb 28, 2014

After months of speculation, the Department of Justice and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) two weeks ago released new guidelines to banks and financial institutions on their relationship with state-legal cannabis businesses. As we discussed in our post, Feds Green Light Marijuana Banking, these new guidelines seem to give banks the green [pun intended] light to conduct banking business with marijuana business customers, subject to fairly stringent requirements that the bank monitor and report on those activities.

We and others declared that FinCEN’s announcement would usher in a new era of financial legitimacy for the cannabis industry, but banks and banking industry groups have since rained on our parade a bit. Colorado Bankers’ Association Senior Vice President Jennifer Waller reportedly told CNBC this week she was not aware of a single Colorado bank that had changed its position on marijuana customers as a result of the DOJ’s new position.

Commentators have pointed out that the new cannabis banking guidelines, just like the August 2013 Cole memo (which outlined eight enforcement priorities, but was read as permitting state-legal canna business), are just that — non-binding guidelines subject to change at any time. Moreover, the requirement that banks keep close tabs on their marijuana business customers is a very real cost. Karen Thomas, a senior official with the Independent Community Bankers of America, told NBC that the due diligence is “risky and prohibitive” and creates a significant obstacle for small banks to get into the game, even though they may desperately want the revenue. Of course the mega-banks are skittish as well.