Neal Rasmussen, MJLST Managing Editor
While the legal marijuana industry continues to rapidly expand in the United States, a major question still looms: Where should the millions of dollars generated by the industry be placed? Up to this point the nation’s banks have refused to take money for fear of federal repercussions. The lack of banking is one of the biggest problems the industry currently has and creates a dangerous all cash environment. While it continues to be an industry dominated by cash vaults and armed guards, change could soon be on the way.
While the provisions of the unlicensed money remitter statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1960, the money laundering statutes, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1956, 1957, and the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) still remain in effect with respect to marijuana-related business, the marijuana industry had hoped to take advantage of the new rules issued by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2014 which “clarifie[d] how financial institutions can provide services to marijuana-related businesses consistent with their BSA obligations, and aligns the information provided by financial institutions in BSA reports with federal and state law enforcement priorities.” In addition to the new rules, the Justice Department produced a memorandum calling for relaxed enforcement of the relevant federal banking laws so long as they followed the new rules. However, the most recent attempt by a Colorado state-chartered credit union, The Fourth Corner Credit Union, to take advantage of the new rules and memorandum has faced major opposition from the Federal Reserve Bank, who must provide clearance before the credit union can open.
The Federal Reserve Bank refused to grant the permission need to access the national banking system and The Fourth Corner Credit Union has sued in Federal Court demanding equal access to the federal system. While it remains unclear whether the presiding judge, R. Brooke Jackson, will hear the complaint, most view The Fourth Corner Credit Union as fighting a losing battle. Most believe that entering the federal banking system will be nearly impossible until marijuana becomes legal at the federal level. For now it will remain unclear as to where the industry should place its money.