Financial institutions considering implementing cannabis banking programs should take comfort in recent comments made by FDIC Chairwoman Jelena McWilliams during virtual meetings held with bankers in Michigan and Arizona. While McWilliams said she could not “give blanket immunity” to banks or “bless them and say ‘go ahead and do it’” because marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, McWilliams stated that she thought bankers would be “OK” with regulators if they conduct due diligence that ensures licensed entities comply with state regulations and follow the 2014 FinCEN guidelines, including the filing of suspicious activity reports (SARs).
The direction provided by McWilliams and the FDIC remains consistent and echoes that of other regulatory agencies that continue to await comprehensive marijuana reform, or the passage of the SAFE Banking Act that stalled in the Senate after passing in the House last year. Despite not sharing any new insights, McWilliams’ unchanged position, coupled with FDIC efforts to support cannabis banking by educating its examiners, may mean that entering the cannabis banking space now is the least risky it has ever been, or will be, until the federal government changes its marijuana policy. Likewise, acting now may create business opportunities that will disappear when cannabis banking becomes mainstream.