The Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has released updated quarterly statistics showing a continuing increase in the number of depository institutions that actively bank U.S. marijuana businesses. As of March 31, 2018, a total of 411 banks and credit unions provided services to marijuana-related businesses, up from 365 one year ago. FinCEN’s data reflects a slight decrease following the Attorney General’s announcement in January 2018 that he was rescinding the Cole Memorandum, but the numbers quickly went back up, ending the quarter at their second-highest level since December 31, 2017. FinCEN’s data is based upon Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) required to be filed by financial institutions on activity involving a marijuana-related business.

In guidance issued in February 2014, FinCEN required financial institutions providing services to marijuana businesses to file the following types of SARs depending upon the type of services being provided:

  • A “Marijuana Limited” filing, which means that the financial institution’s due diligence indicates that the marijuana-related business does not raise any of the red flags as defined in the Cole Memo and is compliant with the appropriate state’s regulations regarding marijuana businesses. In this category, the financial institution is providing banking services to the marijuana-related business.
  • A “Marijuana Priority” filing, which means the financial institution’s due diligence indicates that the marijuana-related business may raise one or more of the red flags as defined in the Cole Memo or may not be fully compliant with the appropriate state’s regulations regarding marijuana-related businesses. In this category, the financial institution is providing banking services to the marijuana-related business while further investigation is being conducted.
  • A “Marijuana Termination” filing, which means the financial institution decided to terminate its relationship with the marijuana related business for one or more of the following reasons:

– The financial institution’s due diligence indicates that the marijuana-related business raises one or more of the red flags as defined in the Cole Memo.

– The marijuana-related business is not fully compliant with the appropriate state’s regulations.

– The financial institution has decided not to have marijuana-related customers for business reasons.

Following the Attorney General’s announcement in January 2018, FinCEN announced that its 2014 guidance would remain in place. And FinCEN’s latest publication of marijuana-banking statistics contains this important note:

Note: The SAR reporting structure laid out in the 2014 guidance remains in place. FinCEN will continue to work closely with law enforcement and the financial sector to combat illicit finance, and we will notify the financial sector of any changes to FinCEN’s SAR reporting expectations.

As of April 12, 2018, FinCEN has received 51,391 SARs involving marijuana-related businesses since issuance of FinCEN’s February 2014 guidance. The vast majority of those SARs – nearly 38,000 – were “Marijuana Limited” filings, indicating that the financial institution was providing ongoing banking services to the marijuana business in question. FinCEN has received approximately 3,800 “Marijuana Priority” SARs, and over 12,000 “Marijuana Termination” SARs, during the same time period.

An analysis of FinCEN’s SAR filing data continues to show a generally positive and encouraging trend for marijuana businesses, notwithstanding the Justice Department’s policy reversal on marijuana enforcement. For the first three quarters of 2018, the number of “Marijuana Limited” SAR filings increased every month by an average of 1,401 filings. In comparison, the number of “Marijuana Priority” and “Marijuana Termination” SAR filings increased by an average of only 480 and 173, respectively.

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post regarding the status of FinCEN’s 2014 marijuana banking guidance in light of the Attorney General’s policy reversal on marijuana enforcement at the federal level, we have received written confirmation from FinCEN that its 2014 guidance remains in place.  In response to our inquiries, FinCEN provided us with the following statement:

“The SAR reporting structure laid out in the February 14, 2014 guidance remains in place.  FinCEN will continue to work closely with law enforcement and the financial sector to combat illicit finance, and we will notify the financial sector of any changes to FinCEN’s SAR reporting expectations.”

In addition, the two U.S. Senators from Colorado, Michael Bennet (D) and Cory Gardner (R), announced that they have sent a letter to FinCEN urging the agency to retain its 2014 marijuana banking guidance.  In their press release, the senators warned that “repealing the guidance could increase the amount of cash used by marijuana businesses, raising public safety issues and reducing the oversight and transparency of marijuana transactions.”  A copy of their letter is available here.

We are closely monitoring this area and will provide timely updates as to any developments.

Reuters is reporting today that the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) was caught off guard by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement last week that the Justice Department was reversing its policy regarding enforcement of federal marijuana laws.  A FinCEN spokesman said in a statement that his agency’s prior pronouncement regarding marijuana banking nevertheless “remains in place,”  referring to guidance issued in February 2014 to clarify Bank Secrecy Act expectations for financial institutions seeking to provide services to marijuana-related businesses.  That guidance described how financial institutions could provide banking services to marijuana businesses consistent with their BSA obligations despite the fact that the manufacture, distribution, and dispensing of marijuana is illegal under federal law.  And as we recently reported, 400 banks and credit unions were actively serving the marijuana industry prior to the Attorney General’s announcement.

Reuters reports that FinCEN received no advance warning of the Attorney General’s announcement, according to sources, and a Justice Department spokesman declined to comment about whether his agency had coordinated with FinCEN prior to the announcement.  The Justice Department’s policy reversal has understandably sowed confusion among financial institutions as to whether they can continue to do business with marijuana businesses, and FinCEN’s confirmation that its 2014 guidance remains in place should provide some measure of comfort to affected banks and credit unions.

It is worth noting that FinCEN’s current director – Kenneth A. Blanco, who assumed the role just last month — spent the last 28 years of his career as a Justice Department prosecutor, most recently serving as Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division.  During his tenure at the Justice Department, he was the chief of numerous sections, including the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, and the Organized Crime and Gang Section, among others.  We have yet to see whether Mr. Blanco will implement major policy changes at FinCEN, and whether his agency maintains its marijuana banking stance, or aligns with his former agency’s policy shift, may well be one of the first major policy decisions he has to confront.

The Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has released updated statistics showing a steady increase in the number of depository institutions that actively bank U.S. marijuana businesses. As of September 30, 2017, a total of 400 banks and credit unions provided services to marijuana-related businesses, up from 334 as of December 31, 2016. FinCEN’s data is based upon Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) required to be filed by financial institutions on activity involving a marijuana-related business.

In guidance issued in February 2014, FinCEN required financial institutions providing services to marijuana businesses to file the following types of SARs depending upon the type of services being provided:

  • A “Marijuana Limited” filing, which means that the financial institution’s due diligence indicates that the marijuana-related business does not raise any of the red flags as defined in the Cole Memo and is compliant with the appropriate state’s regulations regarding marijuana businesses. In this category, the financial institution is providing banking services to the marijuana-related business.
  • A “Marijuana Priority” filing, which means the financial institution’s due diligence indicates that the marijuana-related business may raise one or more of the red flags as defined in the Cole Memo or may not be fully compliant with the appropriate state’s regulations regarding marijuana-related businesses. In this category, the financial institution is providing banking services to the marijuana-related business while further investigation is being conducted.
  • A “Marijuana Termination” filing, which means the financial institution decided to terminate its relationship with the marijuana related business for one or more of the following reasons:

– The financial institution’s due diligence indicates that the marijuana-related business raises one or more of the red flags as defined in the Cole Memo.

– The marijuana-related business is not fully compliant with the appropriate state’s regulations.

– The financial institution has decided not to have marijuana-related customers for business reasons.

As of September 30, 2017, FinCEN has received more than 39,000 SARs involving marijuana-related businesses since issuance of the February 2014 guidance. The vast majority of those SARs – nearly 29,000 – were “Marijuana Limited” filings, indicating that the financial institution was providing ongoing banking services to the marijuana business in question. FinCEN has received approximately 2,800 “Marijuana Priority” SARs, and just over 9,400 “Marijuana Termination” SARs, during the same time period.

An analysis of FinCEN’s SAR filing data shows a positive and encouraging trend for marijuana businesses, which have typically struggled to find financial institutions willing to provide banking services. For the first three quarters of 2017, the number of “Marijuana Limited” SAR filings increased every month by an average of 1,258 filings. In comparison, the number of “Marijuana Priority” and “Marijuana Termination” SAR filings increased by an average of only 332 and 118, respectively.

Venture capital is playing a growing role in the country’s emerging legal cannabis industry. Attorneys Emily J. Yukich and Matthew R. Kittay of Fox Rothschild’s Emerging Companies & Venture Capital Practice will conduct a panel discussion with industry insiders during the American Bar Association Business Law Section’s annual meeting in Chicago.

Cannabis leafThe Angel Venture Capital Subcommittee, which Yukich and Kittay co-chair, will present an in-depth 360-degree examination of venture capital investing in cannabis companies, featuring:

Panelists:

  • Jeremy Unruh, general counsel and director of external communications at PharmaCann, a medical cannabis provider based in Oak Park, Illinois.
  • Charlie Bachtell, founder and CEO of Cresco Labs, LLC, a Chicago-based medical cannabis cultivating and manufacturing company.
  • William Bogot, co-chair of the Cannabis Practice Group at Fox Rothschild LLP.

Date: Thursday, Sept. 14

Time: 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Venue: Chicago Ballroom VIII, Ballroom Level, Sheraton Grand, Chicago, Illinois.

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network of the U.S. Department of the Treasury (FinCEN) recently issued a Marijuana Banking Update, with data through March 31, 2017.   The number of banking institutions offering services to Marijuana Related Businesses continues to increase, but the overall number of banks providing such services remains low.  As of March 31, 2017, only 368 banks and other depository institutions in the U.S. offered services to Marijuana Related Businesses.

Copyright: jeremynathan / 123RF Stock Photo

During the period covered by the Update, banking institutions filed approximately 30,000 Suspicious Activity Reports (SARS) across the 3 required filing categories:  Marijuana Limited, Marijuana Priority, and Marijuana Termination.  The majority of the SARs filings – over 20,000 – fell into the Marijuana Limited category, while 2,007 SARS were filed in the Marijuana Priority category and 7,326 SARs were filed in the Marijuana Termination category.

FinCEN defines the three filing categories as follows:

Marijuana Limited: the financial institution’s due diligence indicates that the MRB does not raise any of the red flags as defined in the Cole Memo and is compliant with the appropriate state’s regulations regarding marijuana businesses. The financial institution is providing banking services to the MRB.

Marijuana Priority: the financial institution’s due diligence indicates that the MRB may raise one or more of the red flags as defined in the Cole Memo or may not be fully compliant with the appropriate state’s regulations regarding MRBs. The financial institution is providing banking services to the MRB while further investigation is being conducted.

Marijuana Termination: the financial institution decided to terminate its relationship with the MRB for one or more of the following reasons:

    • The financial institution’s due diligence indicates that the MRB raises one or more of the red flags as defined in the Cole Memo.
    • The MRB is not fully compliant with the appropriate state’s regulations.
    • The financial institution has decided not to have marijuana related customers for business reasons.

 

Tax and accounting issues you should not ignore when setting up your marijuana business:

  • The Trouble with Cash Based Businesses
    • Internal Controls – any cash based business is closely scrutinized by the IRS and other taxing authorities; having strict internal control procedures, in writing, which are strictly enforced, will go a long way in establishing credibility with taxing authorities
    • Form 8300 requirements – educate yourself or hire an accountant who can work with you to comply with this filing requirement
  • Find Good Help
    • It is very important to hire reputable CPAs and legal counsel to assist you in operating your business
    • CPAs often do not have guidance from their licensing boards re: representation of marijuana businesses and many are reluctant to advise marijuana businesses
    • Even though many state bars have given comfort to attorneys, many large law firms are still reluctant to assist marijuana businesses
    • However, sophisticated advisors are starting to work with the industry, both in house and as external advisors
  • Comply, comply, comply
    • Abide by Internal Revenue Code section 280E – this requires knowledgeable and diligent accounting advice
    • Be timely and fully pay your taxes – tax liens can create issues with licensing authorities and the IRS has very unfavorable positions regarding collections issues for the industry
    • Taxpayers have the burden of proving the proper tax liability – consider all your options before refusing to cooperate in IRS examinations