February 20, 2014

FinCEN director touches on marijuana-biz guidance

Feb. 21, 2014 – Financial Crimes Enforcement Network Director Jennifer Shasky Calvery noted the agency's guidance last week for financial institutions serving marijuana businesses but said it's a complicated issue that would best be addressed legislatively.

Speaking to the Florida International Bankers Association during its anti-money laundering conference, she said, "This is a unique and complex issue, and only legislative change can fully and completely address it. We believe that FinCEN's approach best balances the multiple competing interests currently at play."

She said last week's guidance does lend clarity and should "enhance the availability of financial services for marijuana businesses and mitigate the dangers associated with conducting an all-cash business. The guidance also helps financial institutions file reports that contain information important to law enforcement."

NAFCU Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and General Counsel Carrie Hunt said the guidance still doesn't address the legal issue of whether an institution is violating federal law in providing services to marijuana businesses.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., as quoted in The Huffington Post, said the guidance is helpful but does not relieve financial institutions of related liability. He urged anew for action on his H.R. 2462, the "Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2013," which would protect depository institutions serving legitimate marijuana businesses from federal regulatory or share and deposit insurance sanctions and provide immunity from federal criminal prosecution or investigation.

The bill would bar the Treasury secretary from requiring a suspicious transaction report "solely because a party to the transaction is a marijuana-related legitimate business."