Feds unveil new guidelines for banks handling marijuana money

Staff, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Marijuana is still prohibited under federal law, but that hasn’t stopped 20 states and the District of Columbia from legalizing certain marijuana-related activity. That divide has raised questions over whether businesses should feel safe storing their cash in banks, which are regulated by a mix of federal and state authorities.

On Friday, the Department of Justice announced new federal guidelines for this relationship. One takeaway is that it repeatedly calls on financial institutions to make sure the businesses they’re dealing with have state licenses.

But because California doesn’t have a state licensing system — only local ordinances regulating medical marijuana collectives — it’s questionable whether these guidelines apply in the Golden State. (A bill to establish a state licensing system is pending in the state Senate.)

Some marijuana advocates applauded the new guidelines Friday.

“We have been pushing the federal government for years to make these commonsense concessions and we’re pleased that the Obama Administration is finally doing so,” said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA). “At the same time, a piecemeal approach to medical marijuana policy is shortsighted and is an issue that deserves a comprehensive public health solution.”