Financial Services and Cannabis

Sheet of a hemp on a background of money
The U.S. Justice Department has announced new federal guidelines for providing financial services to marijuana-related businesses under the Bank Secrecy Act: “BSA Expectations Regarding Marijuana-Related Businesses.” The guidelines call on financial institutions to check for state licensing; because California lacks a state licensing system it’s questionable whether these guidelines can apply in California—where only local ordinances regulating medical marijuana collectives,. A bill to establish a state MMJ licensing system, AB 604, introduced by state Senator Tom Ammiano, is pending in the State Senate, but until it is passed financial institutions have no state licensing law on which to rely.

The guidelines reiterate that DOJ enforcement is focused on assuring compliance with the so-called Cole Memo priorities; namely, preventing distribution to minors, diversion of revenues to criminal enterprises, diversion to states where marijuana is illegal, growing on public lands, drugged driving, violence, and use of firearms. The memo directs financial institutions to conduct due diligence in assessing customers. In specific, it states:

In assessing the risk of providing services to a marijuana-related business, a financial institution should conduct customer due diligence that includes: (i) verifying with the appropriate state authorities whether the business is duly licensed and registered; (ii) reviewing the license application (and related documentation) submitted by the business for obtaining a state license to operate its marijuana-related business; (iii) requesting from state licensing and enforcement authorities available information about the business and related parties; (iv) developing an understanding of the normal and expected activity for the business, including the types of products to be sold and the type of customers to be served (e.g., medical versus recreational customers); (v) ongoing monitoring of publicly available sources for adverse information about the business and related parties; (vi) ongoing monitoring for suspicious activity, including for any of the red flags described in this guidance; and (vii) refreshing information obtained as part of customer due diligence on a periodic basis and commensurate with the risk. With respect to information regarding state licensure obtained in connection with such customer due diligence, a financial institution may reasonably rely on the accuracy of information provided by state licensing authorities, where states make such information available.

About Douglas Slain

Doug received a JD from Stanford Law School, a MA from the University of Chicago, and a BA from DePauw University (Phi Beta Kappa). After practicing real estate and finance law at then Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro, he founded four national monthly law reporting titles now owned by Thomson-Reuters. He served two consecutive terms as chairman of the American Bar Association’s General Practice section’s Professional Responsibility Committee. Slain was an ABA-appointed rule of law consultant to the Ministry of Economy for the Republic of Latvia as its secured transactions adviser. He taught briefly at Stanford Law School as an adjunct clinical law professor. Slain has been the managing partner of Private Placement Advisors since August 2009. In January 2013 he founded Outliers Network.

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