War on Drugs

Feds Offer Slim Hope to Banks That Serve Marijuana-Related Businesses



It's not a lot on which to rely, but a new U.S. Justice Department memo offers a bit of hope—perhaps vain hope—that the federal government is backing off the threat of instant doom for any financial institution that offers services to marijuana related businesses. In a missive dated today, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole writes that prosecution may not be appropriate "if a financial institution or individual offers services to a marijuana-related business whose activities do not implicate any of the eight priority factors."

Those eight "priority factors" are:

  • Preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors
  • Preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels
  • Preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states
  • Preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity
  • Preventing violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana
  • Preventing drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use
  • Preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands and
  • Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property

Is there any circumstance that doesn't implicate those factors in some way, depending on your interpretation?

Jacob Sullum already predicted that this memo won't be very reassuring to banks. This is, after all, the same administration that suggested it would "de-prioritize" marijuana prosecutions and then did nothing of the sort. Trusting their business, and freedom, to non-binding guidance from an administration has only grudgingly ceded any ground on the drug war may just be a step too far for bankers.

But the memo will probably get nice press coverage. So there's that.