Banking a safety issue for marijuana shops

Thanks to guidelines issued by the Obama administration on Friday, it is now legal — sort of — for banks to do business with legal marijuana retail shops in Colorado and Washington state.

That’s welcome news for those of us who live in those states, whether we support legalized marijuana or not, because the cash-and-carry business model under which the pot shops are currently operating is a dangerous one. It is an invitation to armed robbery that could end up harming not just the owners and operators of marijuana shops, but their customers and innocent bystanders who may be nearby when a robbery occurs.

Having a safe place for pot shops to deposit cash receipts, not to mention having a banking trail that state regulators can follow, will create a better situation for all concerned.

The problem with the guidelines issued Friday by the Treasury Department is that they seek to make banking institutions auxiliary arms of law enforcement by requiring them to know far more business details about any marijuana clients they have than other customers and mandating that they report suspected criminal activity — including the fact that their clients will be breaking federal pot laws — to federal agencies.

Furthermore, the guidelines don’t absolve banks of responsibility and possible prosecution for handling money that was gathered in violation of federal drug laws, banking groups say.

As a result, it’s not clear how many banks will be eager to jump on board and offer banking services to legal marijuana shops and growers. That’s unfortunate, because some banking services are definitely needed.

Fixing this problem, however, is not something the Colorado Legislature can do. Because banks are federally regulated, any change in the laws applying to the banks with respect to marijuana will have to come at the federal level.

We hope the Obama administration rethinks the guidelines issued Friday and makes them more effective for banks that want to do business with legal marijuana outlets. Then, at least, Colorado’s pot shops would be no more attractive as targets of crime than the average retail shop.


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