(Corrects time reference in paragraph 4 to "last month" from
By David Ingram and Jason Lange
WASHINGTON Feb 14 The Obama administration made
it easier on Friday for banks to do business with licensed
marijuana companies with less fear of prosecution, further
encouraging U.S. states that are experimenting with legalization
of the drug.
The Justice and Treasury departments were in the process of
outlining the policy in writing to federal prosecutors and
financial institutions. The guidance would stop short of
promising immunity for banks, but make clear that criminal
prosecution for money laundering and other crimes was unlikely
if they met a series of conditions, officials said.
The guidance was intended to increase the availability of
banking services, such as savings and checking accounts, to
marijuana shops that typically deal in cash.
Last month, Colorado became the first state to open retail
outlets legally permitted to sell marijuana to adults for
recreational purposes, in a system similar to what many states
have long had in place for alcohol sales. Washington state is
expected to follow Colorado's lead.
The number of states approving marijuana for medical
purposes has also been growing. California was the first in
1996. It has since been followed by about 20 other states and
the District of Columbia.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said last month that the
administration was planning ways to accommodate marijuana
businesses so they would not always be dealing in cash.
"There's a public safety component to this. Huge amounts of
cash, 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," Holder
said on Jan. 23 at an appearance at the University of Virginia.
(Editing by Howard Goller and Jan Paschal)