Saturday, September 20, 2014

"Marijuana Money Is Still A Pot Of Trouble For Banks"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent lengthy and informative Forbes article by Jacob Sullum.  Here is how it gets started:

During a visit to the Dixie Elixirs & Edibles plant in Denver last summer, I saw the machines the company uses to produce cannabis concentrates, the kitchen where it makes marijuana-infused chocolates, and the bottling line for its THC-spiked sodas. Toward the end of the tour, I had a semi-serious question for the company’s CEO, Tripp Keber: “Where do you keep your piles of money?”

Keber laughed but quickly turned serious. “We actually have strong banking relationships,” he said. “We don’t talk about them. Asking someone about their banking is like asking them what they wear to bed at night. It’s an intensely personal question, even within the industry.” You can begin to understand why banking is such a touchy subject for the newly legal cannabusinesses in Colorado and Washington (as well as growers and dispensaries in the 21 states that allow medical but not recreational use of marijuana) if you consider the federal laws a financial institution violates when it does business with a state-licensed company like Keber’s.

“By providing [a] loan and placing the proceeds in [a] checking account, the institution would be conspiring to distribute marijuana,” writes University of Alabama law professor Julie Andersen Hill in a paper she presented at a conference on marijuana and federalism last week. “By facilitating customers’ credit card payments, the institution would be aiding and abetting the distribution of marijuana. And by knowingly accepting deposits consisting of revenue from the sale of marijuana, the institution may be acting as an accessory after the fact.”

That is not the end of the possible charges. “A financial institution that knowingly processes transactions for marijuana-related businesses commits the crime of money laundering,” Hill notes. Failure to meet the detailed monitoring and reporting requirements of the humorously named Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), which requires financial institutions to keep an eye out for suspicious activity, also can be treated as a felony.

Bank employees, officers, and directors can be prosecuted for these crimes, some of which may, depending on the amount of marijuana involved, trigger five- or 10-year mandatory minimum sentences. BSA violations are punishable by up to 10 years in prison when combined with other federal offenses. Money laundering can get you up to 20 years, and life is the maximum for participating in a marijuana conspiracy. In addition to the daunting threat of criminal penalties, financial institutions that deal with cannabusinesses have to worry about offending federal regulators with the power to impose millions of dollars in fines or sentence a bank to death by revoking its deposit insurance.

It is little wonder, then, that financial institutions are wary of cannabusinesses, or that the growers, manufacturers, and retailers who are lucky enough to obtain banking services do not want to talk about how they managed to do that. The lack of banking services, which Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, calls “the most urgent issue facing the legal cannabis industry today,” makes it difficult for marijuana entrepreneurs to raise capital and forces most of them to deal exclusively in cash, which creates administrative, logistical, and security headaches.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2014/09/marijuana-money-is-still-a-pot-of-trouble-for-banks.html

Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink

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