[dropcap]A[/dropcap]ttorney General Eric Holder on Thursday said the Obama administration will soon announce rules that would make banking services available to legal marijuana businesses. The rules will not be regulations; the intent is only to offer legal guidance for enforcement officials and prosecutors.
“You don’t want just huge amounts of cash in these places. They want to be able to use the banking system. […] 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.”
Like the Cole memo Holder released in August, which effectively legalized marijuana in Colorado by changing federal prosecutors’ priorities, the new rules wouldn’t be enforceable in court.
The comments come at the end of an historic month in the annals of marijuana use and regulation. The last 30 days saw the first legal pot sales in the world and a sitting U.S. president opine that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol.
It’s hard to know how banks will immediately respond to Holder’s comments, but marijuana policy experts are optimistic.
“I speculate the memo will give banks the yellow light,” said Michael Elliot, executive director of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group. “And hopefully immediately.”
As things stand, many shop owners feel uneasy piling up cash on-site. There are some businesses, like Medicine Man in north Denver, that use merchant services in order to run credit cards, but those services come with high fees, levied because marijuana businesses are still considered “high risk” by the financial industry. Holder’s comments may change that.
“I think that for a long time banks have been wanting to provide services to marijuana businesses, like any other business,” said Morgan Fox at the Marijuana Policy Project. “I think that some people will still be cautious getting into the industry… but there are plenty of financial institutions out there that really want to do business.”
[Image via DonkeyHotey]