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Feds: Attorneys Should Use Discretion When Prosecuting Cannabis-Related Banking Offenses

A banker hands a customer 100 dollar bills through a teller window.


Feds: Attorneys Should Use Discretion When Prosecuting Cannabis-Related Banking Offenses

A memo issued by the U.S. Department of Justice today directs U.S. attorneys to use their own discretion and focus on eight federal priorities when prosecuting charges based on banking and cannabis.

The memo, released by Deputy Attorney General James Cole, states that those engaged in financial and monetary transactions with the proceeds of a “specified unlawful activity,” including marijuana, are still at risk of prosecution; however, it directs the nation’s attorneys to focus their prosecutions of cannabis offenses to federal priorities such as ensuring cartels do not profit from cannabis revenue and preventing the transfer of cannabis across state lines.

“This memorandum is intended solely as a guide to the exercise of investigative and prosecutorial direction,” the memo states. “This memorandum does not alter in any way the department’s authority to enforce federal law, including federal laws relating to marijuana, regardless of state law.”

The memo restates the points of federal enforcement outlined in an Aug. 29 directive. It also echoes that directive’s guidance for states, which have or intend to legalize recreational cannabis or medical marijuana, to “implement clear, strong and effective regulatory enforcement systems in order to minimize the threat posed to federal enforcement priorities.”

“That guidance seeks to mitigate the public safety concerns created by high-volume cash-based businesses without access to banking and the financial system, while at the same time ensuring that criminal organizations, gangs and drug cartels do not have access to the financial system to launder criminal proceeds,” Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh said through a release. “The Colorado U.S. attorney’s office will follow this guidance. In addition, the Department of Treasury today is issuing a guidance memo to the banking industry on this subject.”

Read the full memo here.

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