Austin Labry, right, and Kelsey K. from New Orleans, Louisiana check out the selection of wax and shatters at Denver Kush Club, Jan. 1, 2014, in Denver, Colo.
Seth McConnell/The Denver Post/Getty

Banks, pot shops cleared for business


In a long awaited decision, the Treasury Department Friday unveiled new rules that ease dealings between banks and marijuana-related businesses in states where the drug is legal.

Stopping short of granting immunity, the seven-page memo lays out a set of guidelines for banking service providers interested in working with the marijuana trade.  

With this latest announcement, some marijuana shops and businesses may be able to open checking and savings accounts.  Under current rules, legal marijuana businesses cannot get bank accounts or even use armored cars to transport the large amounts of currency generated by their cash-only businesses. 

The new regulations will impact the 20 states–along with the District of Columbia–that have legalized some form of marijuana-activity. Though marijuana remains illegal on the federal level, Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize the recreational use of the drug through a pair of 2012 ballot initiatives. At least five states are working toward doing the same in the 2014 election season.

NOW With Alex Wagner, 2/14/14, 5:16 PM ET

Pot sellers can begin banking

Alex Wagner talks about the Justice and Treasury Departments decision to allow banks to do business with marijuana sellers.
Alex Wagner talks about the Justice and Treasury Departments decision to allow banks to do business with marijuana sellers.

Business owners and industry groups have been anxiously awaiting the decision, especially following a series of high profile robberies of the cash rich dispensaries. Michael Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group told NBC News, “Everyone in the industry is having nightmares,” over fears of burglary.

“You hit a 7-Eleven, you’ll get 20 bucks. You hit a dispensary, you’ll get $300,000 on a good day,” says Mitch Morrissey, District Attorney for Denver.

This latest guidance builds upon the Cole Memo, a Department of Justice decision last August that announced the department’s decision to focus law enforcement efforts on a set of eight marijuana priorities including distribution to minors, gangs, and interstate trade.

This new guidance instructs financial institutions to use their own judgment when initiating relationships with marijuana-related businesses and lays out a seven part due diligence risk assessment protocol. Banks must also verify businesses are fully licensed and monitor for suspicious activity.

The Treasury’s move on Friday was just the latest in growing momentum for relaxing marijuana laws nationwide. On Wednesday a bi-partisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to the White House urging Attorney General Eric Holder to loosen restrictions on marijuana for business purposes. 

The latest Wall Street Journal / NBC News polling finds that 55% of Americans would support regulated businesses being allowed to sell marijuana.