The news: United States Attorney General Eric Holder gave marijuana legalization supporters some good news on Thursday: he believes that pot businesses operating legally should be able to use federally regulated banks.
According to The New York Times, this new federal policy “would tell prosecutors not to prioritize cases involving legal marijuana businesses using banks.” Meaning pot shops could store money in federal banks without having to worry about law enforcement coming after them.
This is a big deal for the legal marijuana economy. As it stands now, pot transactions have to be made almost entirely in cash, which means legal stores are holding lots of money in-house, making them prime targets for robbery. That’s an issue, and Holder recognizes it:
“You don’t want just huge amounts of cash in these places. [Stores] want to be able to use the banking system, … Substantial amounts of cash just kind of lying around with no place for it to be appropriately deposited, is something that would worry me, just from a law enforcement perspective.”
Right now, there is no specific timetable for the new regulations to take effect. But Holder says he hopes to have changes in federal policy “very soon.”
Holder’s comments Thursday indicate an administration willing to help legal marijuana sales run as smoothly as possible. Obama’s administration has thus far taken a bit of a hands-off approach to marijuana legalization, but with Holder Thursday and Obama in the most recent New Yorker, it seems that states that have legalized pot may find friends at the federal level – or at least not enemies.
There are still major obstacles facing the legal sale of marijuana, but Holder took a big step toward hurdling one of them this week. When pot shops can finally deposit money into regulated banks, they can start functioning like the legitimate retail operations that they are. It's about time the federal government let them.