Marijuana businesses may not yet get a full green light on the banking rights that non-marijuana businesses already enjoy, but they are likely to get a "yellow light" as soon as the new year, Jack Finlaw, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper's (D) chief legal counsel, said on a joint call Thursday.
"What we're being told," Finlaw said on the call hosted by Drug Policy Alliance, "is probably in the first quarter of 2014 there will be some guidance issued that's comparable to the Cole memo from the Department of Justice that will give, maybe not a green light, but a yellow light to banks to allow them to do business [with marijuana businesses] -- to take deposits, to set up checking accounts, to set up small business loans, to allow these businesses to accept purchases through debit cards or credit cards, to allow what normal businesses are allowed to do."
Last week, the Bank Secrecy Advisory Group had a closed-door meeting in Washington, D.C., to begin talks about reforming banking regulations so that banks can legally engage in services with marijuana businesses.
Currently marijuana businesses aren't allowed to set up legal bank accounts because the federal government still considers marijuana to be illegal. Worried banks fear that they could be implicated as money launderers if they offered traditional banking services to the pot businesses.
"It's my understanding that the ball is in the court of the Department of Treasury," Finlaw added. "The Department of Justice having issued the Cole memo and having signaled to Treasury that they would be willing to see some accommodation in the banking regulations, is working with FinCEN in Treasury."
FinCEN is a bureau of the U.S. Department of Treasury that analyzes financial data to mitigate against illicit use and money laundering.
Even if the DOJ and Treasury give the "yellow light" to banks, there would also continue to be some oversight by the banks to ensure that the marijuana businesses they work with are not a front for illegal activity, Finlaw said.
Thursday's news follows a DOJ announcement in August that it is "actively considering" how to regulate interactions between banks and marijuana shops that operate within state laws and don't violate other federal law enforcement priorities.
Although official regulations have not been set, for now, financial institutions and other enterprises that do business with marijuana shops that are in compliance with state laws are unlikely to be prosecuted for money laundering or other federal crimes that could be brought under existing federal drug laws, as long as those pot businesses don't otherwise violate the DOJ's enforcement priorities, a senior Department of Justice official said.
"My understanding is there is a discussion in Washington about how much of this can be accomplished administratively through FinCEN, Treasury and Justice, and how much Congress needs to do something," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of Drug Policy Alliance, on Thursday's joint call. "It may be the reason for putting out a yellow light instead of a green light, [it] may have to do with some constraints in federal law and the administrative agencies trying to figure out how far they can accommodate these legitimate needs for access to legal banking while staying within the constraints of federal law."
Finlaw also noted that no one in Washington had given timing on the release of a marijuana business banking memo, but that the first quarter was the hope and expectation based on how the process has been working thus far and how long it took for the DOJ's Cole memo to be released.
"The hope is that we can get this resolved in early 2014," Finlaw said.
Dan Riffle, director of federal policies at Marijuana Policy Project, told The Huffington Post that the hope is that the banking issue is resolved before recreational marijuana retail shops open in Washington in Colorado in 2014.
"This raises obvious safety concerns and tax compliance issues, and one of the primary reasons Colorado and Washington voters approved initiatives to regulate marijuana was to reduce the risk of violence and ensure sales of marijuana are taxed appropriately," Riffle said. "It's imperative that Treasury, FinCEN, and the DOJ work together to resolve this issue as soon as possible in order to honor the will of voters in those states."
Messages to DOT and DOJ regarding the possibility of a first-quarter announcement were not immediately returned.
Colorado's first recreational marijuana shops are expected to open on Jan. 1, 2014, with Washington state's opening later in the new year.
Because Most Americans Are Unenthusiastic About It
Only 7 percent of Americans think the United States is <a href="http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/lifestyle/general_lifestyle/november_2012/7_think_u_s_is_winning_war_on_drugs">winning the war on drugs</a>, and few Americans are interested in throwing down more money to try to win, according to a Rasmussen Reports poll released in 2012.
Because The U.S. Won't Control The Flow Of Guns Into Latin America
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/01/mexico-guns-arturo-sarukhan-us-weapons-mexico-violence-gun-rights_n_1563250.html">Mexican authorities seized almost 70,000 weapons of U.S. origin</a> from 2007 to 2011. In 2004, the U.S. Congress declined to renew a 10-year ban on the sale of assault weapons. They quickly became the guns of choice for Mexican drug cartels. Some 60,000 people have died in Mexico since President Felipe Calderón launched a military assault on the cartels in 2006.
Because The United States Leads The Hemisphere In Drug Consumption
Americans have the <a href="http://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/files/serve/?File_id=81b53476-64a3-4088-9bae-254a84b95ddb">highest rate of illegal drug consumption in the world</a>, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Because The U.S. Ignores Latin American Calls For A Rethinking Of Drug Policy
Several current and former Latin American presidents, like Fernando Henrique Cardoso, have <a href="http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/">urged the United States to rethink its failed war on drugs</a>, to no avail.
Because Of The Fast And Furious Scandal
In an attempt to track guns as they moved across the U.S.-Mexico border, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms <a href="http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/atf-fast-furious-sg,0,3828090.storygallery">allowed smugglers to purchase weapons</a>. The ATF lost track of the guns and they wound up in the hands of drug cartels -- even as <a href="http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2012/09/11/atf-fast-and-furious-guns-appear-in-colombia/">far south as Colombia</a>.
Because American Politicians Refuse To Candidly Lead A Debate On Reforming Our Laws
Though the subject of marijuana legalization regularly ranks among the most popular at the digital town halls President Obama takes part in, he <a href="http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/07/06/askobama-twitter-town-hall-ignores-flood-of-marijuana-legalization-questions/">declines to address the issue</a> or give it a <a href="http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2009/03/obama-addresses.html">thoughtful answer</a>. Incidentally, a younger Obama <a href="http://www.wusa9.com/news/article/229756/82/We-Need-To-Decriminalize-Our-Marijuana-Laws----Barack-Obama">supported marijuana decriminalization and a rethinking of the drug war</a>.
Because The U.S. Tortures Detainees In Cuba
Almost 800 prisoners accused of terrorism have have been held at the <a href="http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/01/06/guantanamo-ten-years">U.S. military prison of Guantánamo</a>, Cuba, where they are detained indefinitely without facing trial. The United States has drawn international criticism from human rights defenders for subjecting the detainees there to torture and other cruel treatment. The Cuban government opposes hosting the U.S. naval base on its soil.
Because The U.S. Has The World's Largest Prison Population
The United States has <a href="http://www.prb.org/Articles/2012/us-incarceration.aspx">the world's largest prison population</a> by far -- largely fed by the war on drugs -- at 500 per 100,000 people.
Because The U.S. Jails Undocumented Immigrants Guilty Of Civil Violations
Because the United States <a href="http://www.detentionwatchnetwork.org/ExposeAndClose">imprisons roughly 400,000 immigrants</a> each year on civil violations.
Because The Border Patrol Kills Kids Who Throw Rocks
The U.S. Border Patrol has come under fire for <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/26/border-patrol-killing-un_n_2018731.html">killing minors who were throwing rocks</a>.
Because The U.S. Recognized An Illegal Government In Venezuela
When opponents of leftwing Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez briefly ousted him in 2002, the United States not only failed to condemn the coup, it <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/16/world/bush-officials-met-with-venezuelans-who-ousted-leader.html">praised the coup leaders</a>.
Because U.S. Extradition Undermines Justice In Colombia
When Colombia demobilized the largest rightwing paramilitary organization in 2006, if offered lenient sentences to those who would offer details on the atrocities the AUC committed. But rather than facing justice in their home country, <a href="http://www.propublica.org/article/colombian-paramilitaries-extradited-to-u.s.-where-cases-are-sealed">Colombia has extradited several paramilitary leaders to the United States</a> to face drug trafficking charges -- marking it harder for people like Bela Henríquez to find out the details surrounding the murders of their loved ones. "More than anger, I feel powerless," Henriquez, whose father, Julio, was kidnapped and killed on the orders of one defendant, told ProPublica. "We don't know what they are negotiating, what conditions they are living under. What guarantee of justice do we have?"
Because The U.S. Helped Create Today's Cartels
The U.S funded the Guatemalan military during the 1960s and 1970s anti-insurgency war, despite awareness of widespread human rights violations. Among the recipients of U.S military funding and training were the Kaibiles, a special force unit responsible for several massacres. Former <a href="http://ghrc-usa.org/Publications/factsheet_kaibiles.pdf" target="_hplink">Kaibiles have joined the ranks of the Zetas drug cartel</a>.
Because The U.S. Backed An Argentine Military Dictatorship That Killed 30,000 People
The rightwing military dictatorship that took over Argentina in 1976 "disappeared" some 30,000 people, according to estimates by several human rights organizations. They subjected countless others to sadistic forms of torture and stole dozens of babies from mothers they jailed and murdered. The military junta carried out the so-called "Dirty War" with the <a href="http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB104/index.htm">full knowledge and support of the Nixon administration</a>.
Because The U.S. Helped Topple The Democratically Elected Government Of Salvador Allende
When it became clear that socialist Salvador Allende would likely win the presidency in Chile, U.S. President Richard Nixon told the CIA to "make the economy scream" in order to "prevent Allende from coming to power or to unseat him," <a href="http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB8/nsaebb8i.htm">according to the National Security Archive</a>. Augusto Pinochet overthrew Allende in a bloody coup on Sept. 11, 1973, torturing and disappearing thousands of his political rivals with the backing of the U.S. government.
Because the U.S. Backed A Military Coup In Brazil In 1964
The Brazilian military overthrew the democratically elected government of João Goulart in 1964, with the <a href="http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB118/index.htm">enthusiastic support of President Lyndon Johnson</a>, ushering in two decades of repressive government.
Because The U.S. Funded A Terrorist Group In Nicaragua
The Reagan administration funded the Contra rebels against the Marxist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Regarded by many as terrorists, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/1985-03-08/news/mn-32283_1_contras">the Contras murdered, tortured and raped civilians</a>. When human rights organizations reported on the crimes, the Reagan administration accused them of working on behalf of the Sandinistas.
Because The U.S. Helped Finance Atrocities In Colombia
Through Plan Colombia, the U.S. has pumped over $6 billion into Colombia's military and intelligence service since 2002. The intelligence service has been disbanded for <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/national-security/us-aid-implicated-in-abuses-of-power-in-colombia/2011/06/21/gIQABrZpSJ_story.html">spying on the Supreme Court and carrying out smear campaigns</a> against the justices, as well as journalists, members of Congress and human rights activists. The military faces numerous allegations of human rights abuse, including the practice of killing non-combatants from poor neighborhoods and dressing them up as guerrillas to inflate enemy casualty statistics.
Because The U.S. Maintains A Trade Embargo Against Cuba Despite Opposition From The Entire World
For 21 years, the <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/u-n-urges-end-u-cuba-embargo-21st-192516276.html">U.N. has condemned the U.S. embargo against Cuba</a> and for 21 years the United States has ignored it. Some 188 nations voted against the embargo this year, with only the U.S. itself, Israel, Palau opposing.
Because The U.S. Engineered A Coup Against The Democratically Elected Government Of Guatemala In 1954
At the behest of United Fruit Company, a U.S. corporation with extensive holdings in Central America, the CIA helped engineer the overthrow of the Guatemalan government in 1954, ushering in decades of civil war that resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives.
Because The U.S. Backed The Salvadoran Military As It Committed Atrocities In The 1980s
El Salvador's military <a href="http://www.pbs.org/itvs/enemiesofwar/elsalvador2.html">committed atrocities throughout the 1980s with U.S. funding</a>.
Because The U.S. Invaded Haiti and Occupied It For Almost 20 Years
Woodrow Wilson ordered the Marines to <a href="http://history.state.gov/milestones/1914-1920/Haiti">invade and occupy Haiti in 1915</a> after the assassination of the Haitian president. The troops didn't leave until 1934.
Because The U.S. Invaded Haiti Again In 1994
One invasion wasn't good enough. The U.S. <a href="http://wws.princeton.edu/research/cases/haiti.pdf">military returned in 1994</a>.
Because The U.S. Trained Military Leaders Who Committed Atrocities In Latin America
The School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia, trained soldiers and generals responsible for massacres and torture of tens of thousands of Latin Americans, <a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/insidestoryamericas/2012/09/201292081054585410.html">according to Al Jazeera</a>.
Because The U.S. Backed Dictator Rafael Trujillo
Rafael Trujillo Sr. (Photo by Hank Walker//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
Because The U.S. Invaded Cuba And Undermined The Island's Independence
The so-called "Spanish-American War" began in 1868 with the first of a series of three wars for Cuban independence. In 1898, the U.S. got involved, invading Cuba and occupying the island after forcing Spain to give it. The United States then forced Cuba to <a href="http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=55">accept the odious Platt Amendent to its Constitution</a>, which allowed the United States to intervene in the country militarily and established the U.S. military base at Guantánamo.
Because The U.S. Colonized Puerto Rico
As long as you're invading Cuba, <a href="http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/puerto-rico-invaded">why not take Puerto Rico</a> as well? The United States invaded in 1898 and the island remains a U.S. territory today.