Banking has been an impediment for the cannabis industry because the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970 (BSA) and related regulations―which seek to prevent money laundering and other financial crimes―place onerous requirements on banks when a transaction is suspected to involve illegal activity. 12 C.F.R. Section 21.11. Notwithstanding billions of state-legal cannabis dollars exchanging hands, the commercial banking industry, which is largely federally regulated, is virtually nonexistent in the cannabis space. In 2014, the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) provided guidance intended to enhance the banking of cannabis-related monies by establishing a category of suspicious activity reporting for “marijuana related businesses.” But, according to FinCEN, as of June 30, 2019, just 553 commercial banks and 162 credit unions had filed an SAR for a “marijuana-related business.”
In a January 4, 2018, memorandum regarding marijuana enforcement, U.S. Attorney General Jefferson B. Sessions rescinded, effective immediately, the previous guidance issued by the Department of Justice on marijuana, including the memorandum often referred to as the Cole Memo. To the extent a bank’s compliance program relating to marijuana-related businesses (MRBs) relied on the guidance in the Cole Memo, the bank should immediately re-evaluate what changes in that program, if any, may be appropriate.
To read the full text of this Alert, please visit the Duane Morris website.