Thursday, January 2, 2014

Banking and Marijuana: Hot Topic of 2014

The legalization of marijuana has been likened to a gold rush of sorts with industry prospectors projected to make millions. The only problem is banks can’t legally do business with them. Even though Washington and Colorado have legalized marijuana, banks under fear of federal prosecution, cannot make loans or provide checking accounts and other services to pot businesses.

For years, marijuana dispensaries have been calling for changes, and several lawmakers and officials have joined them in light of the Washington and Colorado votes. Recently, a Treasury Department spokesman announced that there would be a “frank discussion” of the issue at a federal Bank Secrecy Act Advisory Group meeting.

Several lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-WA, have been pushing for changes. Along with a Colorado colleague, Heck has proposed new legislation that would allow banks to do business with marijuana businesses while protecting banks from federal prosecution. Heck cites the difficulties of trying to run a legitimate business on a cash-only basis.

Because the federal banking group will meet in private and is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, the public will not know what decision it makes. Experts speculate, however, that as long as federal law prohibits marijuana, the banking group will have very little incentive to act, and with pot being illegal in so many states, few lawmakers will have any incentive to support new legislation.

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