Cannabis Banking Could Get ‘Yellow Light’ From Feds

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The banking problem that has plagued the marijuana industry in recent years could be coming to an end.

In a phone interview on Thursday, a lawyer for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said the U.S. Treasury is expected to give banks a “yellow light” to work with marijuana businesses sometime in the first quarter of 2014.

Jack Finlaw, Hickenlooper’s chief legal council, said state officials have been told to expect guidance similar to the so-called Cole Memo, which was issued by the Department of Justice in August. Finlaw said the banks will be given guidance on how 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.”

The news comes just days after the Bank Secrecy Advisory Group had a closed-door meeting in Washington DC to talk about various bank reforms, including the possibility of allowing banks to do business with marijuana companies.

It was the BSAAG’s first meeting since the Cole Memo gave a similar “yellow light” to the industry to operate within the laws of each state. The group meets at least twice a year and is a key part of the Treasury Department’s efforts to update the Bank Secrecy Act, which requires banks to monitor their clients for money laundering.

Finlaw said the Treasury Department will make the final decision about banking. He said the department is wary that marijuana businesses could work as fronts for other illegal activity.

Providing guidance to banks is “probably the best we can expect in the near term,” he said.