Pot Holders

WASHINGTON: On Valentine’s Day, the U.S. Treasury Department issued a memorandum clarifying the government’s advice to the nation’s banks about how to deal with the booming cannabis industry. It wasn’t exactly a love letter.

Sure, Treasury outlined a series of guidelines for “assessing the risk of providing services to a marijuana-related business”—but was that meant to be taken as advice to banks for getting into the weed game, and why would Treasury be telling banks how to get into the weed game if there were risks?

Most bankers and “potpreneurs” shrugged. The memo made clear that the manufacture and distribution of marijuana remains a federal crime, under the Controlled Substances Act, which means bankers who knowingly grant checking accounts or loan money to anyone in the cannabis industry risk federal prosecution for money laundering or conspiracy. Pot growers and dispensers worried they would still be hauling around bagfuls of cash, and claiming they operate such legitimate enterprises as sports bars and strip clubs when they really sell cannabis. Treasury’s letter wouldn’t change anything.

Except it has. That memo may have offered little more than tacit approval of banks’ getting into business with Mary Jane, but it was enough of a wink and a nod to convince at least a couple of brave (or desperate) banks or credit unions to stick their necks out and roll the dice, if not the doobies.