Ballard Spahr to Present on Banking and Cannabis

FinCEN and the National Credit Union Administration Both Issue Guidance on Hemp and Banking

We are really pleased to presenting on July 9, 2020 to the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions (“NAFCU”) on banking issues relating to cannabis. The cannabis and hemp industry continues to pose a fascinating mix of competing opportunities and risks – particularly from an anti-money laundering (“AML”) perspective. Changing societal opinions and business opportunities can conflict with daunting legal landscapes and a spectrum of potential AML risks.

This is an important topic with evolving real-world implications, particularly for credit unions, which generally have been more willing to cater to cannabis and hemp-related clients than other financial institutions. Of course, we frequently have blogged on cannabis, hemp and banking, for which the legal landscape would change significantly if pending federal legislation were to pass.

Ultimately, this topic produces constant twists and turns, including two sets of guidance – described below – recently issued by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) and the National Credit Union Administration (“NCUA”). Both are consistent with a (slowly) growing acceptance of cannabis and hemp-related banking by both government and the financial industry.
Continue Reading The Banking of Cannabis and Hemp-Related Customers: An Update

We are really pleased to be moderating the Practising Law Institute’s 2020 Anti-Money Laundering Conference on May 12, 2020, starting at 9 a.m. Perhaps needless to say, this year’s conference will be entirely virtual.  But the conference still should be as informative, interesting and timely as always.  Our conference co-chair, Nicole S. Healy of Ropers

Hudson Valley, New York: Rows of hemp plants in a cultivated field.

On December 3, 2019, four federal agencies – the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (“FDIC”), the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”), and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (“OCC”) – along with the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, released a statement (the “Statement”) “to provide clarity regarding the legal status of commercial growth and production of hemp and relevant requirements for banks under the Bank Secrecy Act and its implementing regulations.” The Statement represents the next step in the normalization of hemp growth and cultivation following its legalization under the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (the “2018 Farm Bill”) and was, predictably, applauded by those in the banking community, including the American Banking Association.
Continue Reading Banking Regulators Ease SAR Reporting Requirements Applied to Hemp-Related Businesses

We regularly blog about the conflict between state and federal law related to cannabis and the uncertainty regarding how federal criminal and Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) law will, or will not, be enforced against financial institutions providing banking services to marijuana-related businesses (“MRBs”). Because of this continuing uncertainty, many MRBs must operate on a cash-only basis. This creates significant safety and security concerns for both the MRBs and the communities in which they operate, causes regulatory and tax compliance challenges, and handicaps business growth.

This post provides an update on very recent efforts to provide a level of federal protection to financial institutions which provide banking services to MRBs. First, the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing regarding challenges faced by financial institutions and businesses in the cannabis sector. Second, the National Credit Union Administration (“NCUA”) issued guidance regarding servicing hemp producers and the cannabis industry. This NCUA guidance came quickly on the heels of a statement by the chairman of the NCUA that his agency won’t sanction federally-chartered credit unions for working with state-legal MRBs.
Continue Reading Update: Recent Momentum in Efforts to Provide Cannabis Businesses Access to Financial Services

As we have blogged, there is perplexing, significant and ongoing uncertainty regarding just how federal criminal and Bank Secrecy Act laws will be – or will not be – enforced against financial institutions providing banking services to marijuana-related businesses (“MRBs”). As our blog has discussed, recent bipartisan efforts in the 116th Congress to

We are pleased to offer the latest episode in Ballard Spahr’s Consumer Financial Monitor Podcast series — a weekly podcast focusing on the consumer finance issues that matter most, from new product development and emerging technologies to regulatory compliance and enforcement and the ramifications of private litigation.

In this podcast, we review the many recent

The state-legal marijuana industry in the United States continues to grow – as does support for it. Ten states and Washington, D.C. have legalized recreational adult use and 23 other states allow some form of medical cannabis. According to recent polling, 65% of Americans favor legalization of marijuana. Although interest and investment in state-legal cannabis show no sign of slowing, marijuana still remains classified as a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substance Act (“CSA”).

Because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions that provide even basic banking services to marijuana-related businesses (“MRBs”) face signficant regulatory risk, even if the real-world chances of any criminal enforcement currently appear very remote. For this reason, although some credit unions and state-chartered banks are opening accounts for MRBs, most financial institutions, including the largest banks, remain reluctant to do so.

As we previously blogged, the conflict between state and federal law and the uncertainty regarding how federal laws will be enforced against financial institutions leave most MRBs operating on a cash-only basis. Operating solely as a cash business raises obvious safety and security concerns for both the MRBs and the communities in which they operate, and causes regulatory and tax compliance challenges. Additionally, MRBs may struggle to obtain access to financing needed for operations and expansion.

Recognizing these issues, Congress is taking action — possibly.  We discuss here two proposed cannabis reform efforts, the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act of 2019 (“SAFE Banking Act”) and the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment through Entrusting States Act (“STATES Act”). If passed, both bills would provide federal protections to financial institutions servicing MRBs, thereby signficantly increasing MRBs’ access to the banking system. Both bills have received broad bipartisan support, along with support from affected industry groups.  Either of these bills, if passed, would represent a major change.

(Please also check out our related podcast on financial services and the cannabis industry, which more generally reviews the many recent developments in this area, including state approaches to banking services, the status of hemp legalization, the interplay between federal and state cannabis law, FinCEN guidance on Bank Secrecy Act expectations, the status of federal regulatory and enforcement activity.)
Continue Reading Proposed Legislation Aims to Address Safe and Equitable Financial Services in the Growing Cannabis Industry

Federal legislators continue to struggle over the growing disconnect between increasing State legalization of the cannabis industry, and the continued illegality of cannabis under federal law. This struggle represents an increasingly pressing question for financial institutions, given the burgeoning market involving cannabis-related products – including third parties who provide services and equipment to growers and distributors – and its need for safe, traditional banking services. The latest chapter in this struggle was a hearing, entitled “Challenges and Solutions: Access to Banking Services for Cannabis-Related Businesses,” held by the House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions on February 13. The recorded webcast is available here.

We previously have blogged about the unsteady regulatory ground on which financial institutions have been operating with regard to cannabis-related businesses, an industry legalized in many states but still in violation of federal drug laws and thus exposing its financial service providers to potential Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) violations and federal money laundering charges. The terrain grew only more perilous at the beginning of 2018 with then-Attorney General Sessions’ decision to rescind the Cole Memo, and with it the prior limited assurance that the DOJ would not make prosecution of persons working in or with state-licensed cananbis businesses a DOJ priority.

The 2018 midterm elections, however, changed the landscape yet again. This post will discuss last week’s hearing and the growing opportunities and stubborn obstacles which it highlighted.
Continue Reading Financial Services and the Marijuana Industry: the U.S. House Mulls Regulatory Reform for Financial Institutions and Cannabis-Related Businesses

Public Risks Posed by Unbanked and Cash-Heavy Industry Deemed Insufficient to Outweigh Federal Law Concerns

As we just blogged, the New York State Department of Financial Services (“NYDFS”) has published guidance to “clarify the regulatory landscape and encourage” New York, state-chartered banks and credit unions to “offer banking services” to “marijuana related businesses licensed by New York state[,]” thereby identifying New York as a state friendly to financial services for marijuana-related businesses. In stark contrast, Ed Leary, Commissioner of the Utah Department of Financial Institutions (“UDFI”), recently articulated the polar opposite position, thereby exemplifying the increasingly bewildering patchwork quilt of approaches to banking and anti-money laundering (“AML”) policy in regards to state-licensed marijuana businesses.

In a presentation on August 17, 2018 to members of the National Association of Industrial Banks and the Utah Association of Financial Services, Commissioner Leary advised that UDFI will not ask any financial institutions regulated by his department to provide banking or payment processing services to cannabis-related businesses. To the contrary, if any examination conducted by UDFI identifies evidence of cannabis-related banking activities, UDFI will cite the conduct as an apparent violation of federal law.
Continue Reading Banking and Marijuana, Redux: Utah Department of Financial Institutions Commissioner Declares Opposite Position to New York’s Encouragement of Banking Services for Marijuana Businesses Licensed Under State Law

New York State Encourages Banking for State-Licensed Medical Marijuana Businesses – Whereas a Maine Company Runs Into Trouble, Despite State Law Legalizing Medical Marijuana

To state the obvious, growing and dispensing marijuana is still illegal under federal law.  As a result, being involved in even a state-licensed marijuana business can be risky. Moreover, obtaining financial services for such a business is sometimes impossible, primarily due to the federal anti-money laundering (“AML”) obligations imposed upon financial institutions by the Bank Secrecy Act (as we have blogged).

This post discusses two recent developments related to state-licensed medical marijuana operations, which serve as contrasting bookends to the spectrum of potential risks and opportunities presented by such businesses.  On the risk-end of the spectrum, we discuss the recent difficulties encountered by a Maine business, and how dubious the seeming safe harbor of state legalization of marijuana can be in some cases. On the opportunity-end of the spectrum, we discuss recent guidance issued by the New York Department of Financial Services, which has declared its support and encouragement of state-chartered banks and credit unions to offer banking services to medical marijuana related businesses licensed by New York State.
Continue Reading The Medical Marijuana Industry and AML: Opportunities and Risks