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Feds Open Banks for MMJ Business

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The Obama administration just said yes to banking for marijuana businesses in cannabis-legal states.

New guidelines from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network means that banks "can provide services to marijuana-related businesses consistent with their BSA [Bank Security Act] obligations," according to the Network.

The rules signal a new era for the War on Drugs, with the Obama administration also vowing not to crackdown on recreational legalization and Attorney General Eric Holder recently announcing more lenient sentencing guidelines for small-time drug offenders.

Justice Department spokesperson Allison Price said this over the weekend:

These guidelines, together with the Treasury Department's guidance to financial institutions, are intended to increase the availability of financial services for marijuana businesses - that are licensed and regulated - while at the same time preserving and enhancing important law enforcement tools.

The banking initiative was welcome by longtime decriminalization advocates, but at least one lawyer who works with SoCal cannabis collectives is saying that California MMJ businesses might have to wait before they open accounts.

The guidelines say that banks must "conduct customer due diligence" and verify "with the appropriate state authorities whether the business is duly licensed and registered." Unfortunately, California doesn't have a state licenses for marijuana businesses, as the attorney notes.

There have been many legislative attempts, and there will surely be more, to create such a licensing framework for California. It's probably only a matter of time. And the attorney said that some dispensaries could argue that local city licenses should suffice.

Meanwhile, Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann stated this:

The assurances the administration have provided appear fairly substantial and will hopefully prove sufficient so that banks will feel safe doing business with the marijuana industry. I have to say I'm impressed by how the White House is trying to make this work...

Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, had this to say:

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. At the same time, a piecemeal approach to medical marijuana policy is shortsighted and is an issue that deserves a comprehensive public health solution.

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