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US issues guidelines for banks to service marijuana businesses

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) [official website] issued guidelines [text, PDF] on Friday for banks to provide services to legal marijuana-related businesses. The guidance document lists eight priorities in line with those of the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] policy of marijuana law enforcement, including preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors and the diversion of the drug out of states where it is legal in some way. The document also suggests a protocol for submitting suspicious activity reports as part of a bank's duty in servicing marijuana businesses. But banks are still wary that the guidelines do not provide sufficient protections to make them confident enough to provide services to the marijuana industry.

Marijuana legalization [JURIST backgrounder] has created controversy in the US, and JURIST Guest Columnist Alex Kriet predicts that 2014 will be a groundbreaking year [JURIST op-ed] for marijuana policy. The Florida Supreme Court [official website] approved a citizen initiative [JURIST report] in January to allow a constitutional amendment on marijuana legalization to go to a vote. Earlier that month New York Governor Andrew Cuomo [official website] proposed a medical marijuana pilot program [JURIST report] for the state. Deputy Attorney General James Cole [official profile] issued a memo [JURIST report] in August 2013 announcing that the DOJ will not prosecute marijuana-related businesses in compliance with state law. The priorities and protocols of the "Cole Memo" formed the basis of FinCEN's guidelines to banks.

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