The banking woes of the cannabis industry are troubling and there has even been a lot of interest in using cryptocurrency to enable transactions. However, banks seem to have loosened up a lot on their policies towards marijuana business money. Is the size of the marijuana industry just too big for banks to continue refusing accounts?
A steadily growing number of banks are willing to open accounts for marijuana businesses, according to new federal data.
Even as a string of conflicting signals from the Trump administration surrounds the debate about legalization with uncertainty, the number of depository institutions that are actively banking the cannabis industry has increased roughly 18% since the beginning of 2017.
Last January, 340 financial services providers were banking marijuana businesses. That number rose to 400 by the end of September, according to a report released late last month by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).
The rise comes despite continued confusion about the federal government’s approach to marijuana as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions — a longtime legalization opponent — has made clear he is considering potential changes to the former administration’s mostly hands-off cannabis enforcement policies.
In 2014, the Obama administration’s Treasury and Justice Departments issued guidance to banks about how to serve the marijuana industry without running afoul of federal regulators. The policy, which requires financial institutions to regularly file reports on their cannabis customers, was intended to provide clarity and assurances to banks. But many have remained reluctant to work with marijuana businesses because of overarching federal prohibition laws.
Under a separate document — the so-called “Cole Memo,” named after the then-deputy attorney general who authored it in 2013 — the federal government set out certain criteria that, if followed, would allow states to implement their own laws mostly without intervention. Those areas concern priorities like preventing youth use, impaired driving and interstate trafficking.
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