DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Aspiring legal marijuana producers and vendors in Colorado and Washington state have a lot riding on a closed-door meeting today held by an obscure Treasury Department group, which faces some interesting constitutional issues about a “growing” industry.
The meeting in Washington, D.C., involves the Bank Secrecy Act Advisory Group, an advisory panel first set up by then Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen in 1994. The panel, known as BSAAG, evaluates issues related to money laundering.
In August, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department wouldn’t criminally prosecute recreational marijuana users and state-approved growers and vendors in Colorado and Washington, after the two states passed legalization referendums in 2012.
However, marijuana is still illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. Holder, in his memo, established new guidelines for federal prosecutors in all states to follow for federal marijuana cases.
His decision averted one constitutional issue for now, about states that pass laws that seemingly contradict federal laws. But another one remains unresolved.
BSAAG is involved because approved marijuana cultivators, producers and vendors in Colorado and Washington can’t set up legal bank accounts, because banks believe they could be implicated as money launders, since marijuana sales are still illegal nationally. And pot vendors can’t process retail credit and debit card transactions, for the same reason.
Legalized pot sales are set to become a reality next month in two states. Since the legally approved growers and vendors are forced to do business on a cash-only basis, some politicians believe criminal elements will enter the states’ marijuana business.