The Obama administration will soon announce regulations to make it easier for banks to do business with legal marijuana sellers, Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday.
“You don’t want just huge amounts of cash in these places. They want to be able to use the banking system,” Holder said during an appearance at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “There’s a public safety component to this. Huge amounts of cash—substantial amounts of cash just kind of lying around with no place for it to be appropriately deposited is something that would worry me, just from a law enforcement perspective.”
While Holder spoke twice of new “regulations” that were being prepared, a Justice Department spokesman said later that the attorney general was referring to legal “guidance” for prosecutors and federal law enforcement. Such a legal memo wouldn’t be enforceable in court and would amount to less than the kind of clear safe harbor many banks say they would want before accepting money from pot businesses.
The federal banking accommodation, being worked out jointly by the Justice and the Treasury departments, comes in the wake of decisions by voters in Colorado and Washington state to legalize the sale and possession of pot. The moves have created legal tensions, since marijuana remains illegal under federal law. One particular problem has been the refusal of banks to deal with pot-related businesses out of fears they will be accused of violating money laundering laws.
By JOSH GERSTEIN
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