FinCEN, Jennifer Shasky Calvery

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

You may recall last year’s pronouncement by the head of FinCEN, Jennifer Shasky Calvery, that 105 financial institutions were, thanks to the amazing guidance provided in February 2014 by FinCEN, servicing state-legal, federal-illegal marijuana businesses. Apparently, less than 10% of those are in Colorado, land of the free and home of the dazed because according to Colorado Rep. Jared Polis, only eight commercial banks and two credit unions in that state are banking the pot biz, and none of them want to be publicly named.

I assume that they don’t want to happen to them what happened to publicity-challenged MBank out of Oregon. As recently related in published reports, that Oregon bank announced in January that it was open for (marijuana) business not only in Oregon but in Colorado and that it had the “tacit approval” of the FDIC to bank the unbankable. Within less than a week, because it was supposedly “overwhelmed” by the response from Colorado marijuana businesses, it pulled entirely out Colorful Colorado. Now, it’s announced that it has pulled out of the entire marijuana business nationally, even in its home state of Oregon, apparently, haven satisfied the munchies and gotten a good night’s sleep. Like the Colorado exit, the industry-wide exit is supposedly due to the unexpected response of unbanked pot sellers and the bank’s determination that “the bank is not big enough to provide and support all of the compliance components required.”

It may be pure coincidence, but it appears that any time a bank is publicly “outed” as a banker to the stoned, the bank pulls out of the business. None of the 105 institutions cited by Ms. Calvery or the ten cited by Mr. Polis was named. Had they been, how many of them would have “pulled an MBank”? Most, if not all, is my guess.

Unlike banking payday lending, a perfectly legal business that the regulators are trying to eradicate, banking marijuana selling, a blatantly illegal business (under federal criminal laws), is just fine with the federal banking regulators as long as the bank flies under the radar screen. It’s OK to service an illegal drug business as long as you (A) file the right kind of Cheech & Chong SAR or SARs, and (B) don’t ever, ever, let anyone but the illegal business owners and bank officials know about it. Do you think that this state of affairs breeds cynicism and contempt for the rule of law? Me, too.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” It was a bad policy for the US military and it’s no better for the US banking business.

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