It is undeniable that, not only is the cannabis industry here to stay, but it is growing exponentially.  To date, 47 states, 4 U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis in some form – whether they decriminalize production, allow uses limited to cannabidiol (“CBD”) or hemp, or is as expansive as permitting THC-containing cannabis for medical use, adult-use or both.  Yet, in comparison to other industries, legitimate licensed cannabis-related businesses remain hobbled by the difficulties they face in accessing traditional banking and financial services – largely due to the fact that “marijuana” is still considered illegal on the federal level under the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”).  Currently, financial institutions (including federally-insured banks) are hesitant, and oftentimes unwilling, to work with cannabis-related businesses due to fear of reprisal from federal banking regulators.

Continue Reading SAFE Banking Act of 2021: Where Are We on Cannabis Banking Change?

On Wednesday, two businessmen were convicted of a single count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1349) for orchestrating a scheme to disguise cannabis-related financial transactions as transactions unrelated to cannabis.[1]  The conviction followed the close of a three-week trial in the Southern District of New York, which was one of the first federal criminal trials to be held in person since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The jury deliberated for less than a day.  Sentencing is scheduled for June 25, 2021.
Continue Reading Online Cannabis Marketplace Businessmen Convicted of Conspiracy to Commit Bank Fraud

The trial of two men associated with an online cannabis marketplace began last week in the Southern District of New York.  Prosecutors seek to prove that Hamid Akhavan and Ruben Weigand, two businessmen who worked with the online platform from 2016 to 2019, conspired to commit bank fraud by disguising credit and debit card transactions for cannabis purchases as transactions for non-cannabis purchases.  While selling cannabis remains illegal under federal law, the case demonstrates how cannabis businesses face white collar enforcement risks unrelated to drug-trafficking charges.   
Continue Reading Bank Fraud Trial Highlights White Collar Enforcement Risks for Cannabis Industry

On June 29, 2020, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) published updated guidance intended to “enhance the availability of financial services” for the hemp industry (the Guidance).  Even though the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 legalized hemp[1] at the federal level, some banks have hesitated to provide financing to the hemp industry because they are uncertain of their obligations under the Bank Secrecy Act or Anti-Money Laundering regulations (BSA/AML).  The Guidance was published to clarify those obligations, and follows closely on the new National Credit Union Administration guidance for federally-chartered credit unions issued on June 20, 2020. 
Continue Reading Clearing the Air: FinCEN Guidance May Help Banks Find Their Way in the Field of Hemp Financing