The federal government announced today clarified rules meant to encourage banking services for legal marijuana businesses in Washington and Colorado.
But the so-called guidance from the Justice and Treasury departments likely will not provide enough assurance for banks, said a top executive with the American Banking Association (ABA).
Because marijuana remains an illegal dangerous drug under federal law, banks need more than guidance, they need Congress to change the law, said Rob Rowe, ABA senior counsel and vice president.
A senior official with the Treasury Department agreed the guidance wouldn’t satisfy all banks, particularly the largest banks. Banks expected to now offer banking services are small and medium-sized, said the official.
The long-awaited guidance amounts to clarifying bank reporting requirements under the Bank Secrecy Act, the federal anti-money-laundering statute.
It essentially tells banks that they can file a certain kind of regulatory report if they believe marijuana businesses with accounts are following the Department of Justice guidelines handed down in August for Colorado and Washington.
Banks would be required to file different reports if they believed marijuana businesses were engaged in illegitimate activities.
“We don’t believe it’s going to encourage all banks to take on this business,” said the senior Treasury official. “At the end of the day it’s a decision each financial institution needs to make on its own.”
The rub for banks, according to the ABA’s Rowe, is that guidance can be changed more easily than law, particularly if policy changes under a new presidential administration.
“The guidance is clear. We’re not looking to have a gotcha enforcement regime,” said the Treasury official. “We’re going to focus on institutions that willfully act in contravention of guidance, not some technical mishap.”