DOJ Says Banks Needn’t Rat on Their Legal Pot Customers As Much

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Photo: Craig F. Walker/The Denver Post, MediaNews Group.

One problem members of the burgeoning legal weed economy have historically had is that banks want nothing to do with their money. Federal law mandates that they report transactions that seem drug-related, and they fear fines and other consequences for doing business with federal criminals, which pot-sellers still are. But with recreational weed legal in Colorado and Washington, and medical pot allowed in 18 other states, the Department of Justice announced on Friday it had a new set of guidelines for banks who want to do business with pot sellers. But it didn't go so far as to actually make doing so legal.

Under the new guidelines, banks will still have to report their dealings with marijuana businesses, but the DOJ says they won't necessarily face problems if the pot sellers adhere with certain priorities, such as keeping the stuff away from minors and not funneling the money out of state, the Denver Post reports. Banks now have three tiers of so-called suspicious activities reports that they can file. At the lowest level of suspicion, the DOJ says it won't prosecute banks that do business with bud-slingers.

However, the Post notes, "the latest guidance, as with three previous memos issued by the Justice Department, doesn't carry the same force as law, and bankers are quick to point that out." And an official with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which co-signed on the new guidelines, pointed out to the paper that "there is no safe harbor created by this guidance, that (banks) are not subject to enforcement if they choose to take it on."

But at least the new guidelines suggest the DOJ is interested in reducing the risks of what is now pretty much an all-cash business. Perhaps someday soon patrons will be able to buy their weed with a credit card or check, and dispensaries will be able to file their taxes electronically. Just like a legitimate business.