Grassley: Treasury's advice to banks on pot is 'misleading'

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Posted: Thursday, April 3, 2014 12:00 am

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has asked the federal Financial Crimes Enforcement Network to clarify its position on the provision of banking services to marijuana businesses, his office said Wednesday.

Grassley and California U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein sent a letter April 1 to the Treasury Department agency, asking for answers to questions about the guidance FinCEN offered financial institutions this year after Washington and Colorado legalized recreational marijuana sales.

The letter says the guidance that FinCEN recently issued regarding the proceeds of marijuana sales “severely undermines the mission of the agency” which is to safeguard the nation’s financial system from illicit use and to combat money laundering. Marijuana is illegal under federal law.

In August 2013, the Justice Department announced it would not challenge recently passed state laws legalizing the production and recreational use of marijuana. Subsequently, FinCEN and the Justice Department told banks there are no plans to prosecute non-violent buyers and sellers, provided they didn’t take the drug to states where it is illegal, furnish it to minors, or run afoul of other main enforcement priorities.

Banks, however, have refused to take deposits from marijuana businesses, saying a mere assurance is not good enough and that they could be prosecuted for violating bank secrecy and money-laundering statutes if someone has a change of heart.

“FinCEN’s guidance is dangerously misleading,” Grassley and Feinstein wrote. “Indeed, following the guidance may expose financial institutions to civil or criminal liability. Congress and the President may reconsider marijuana’s legality, but until federal law is changed, selling marijuana, laundering marijuana proceeds, and aiding and abetting those activities all remain illegal.”

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