FinCEN Guidance for Financial Institutions
BSA Expectations Regarding Marijuana-Related Businesses
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Issued February 14, 2014
This is the full text of FinCEN’s guidance to financial institutions when dealing with marijuana related businesses. To download the PDF version, click here.
The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) is issuing guidance to clarify Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) expectations for financial institutions seeking to provide services to marijuana-related businesses. FinCEN is issuing this guidance in light of recent state initiatives to legalize certain marijuana-related activity and related guidance by the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) concerning marijuana-related enforcement priorities. This FinCEN guidance clarifies how financial institutions can provide services to marijuana-related businesses consistent with their BSA obligations, and aligns the information provided by financial institutions in BSA reports with federal and state law enforcement priorities. This FinCEN guidance should enhance the availability of financial services for, and the financial transparency of, marijuana-related businesses.
Marijuana Laws and Law Enforcement Priorities
The Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) makes it illegal under federal law to manufacture, distribute, or dispense marijuana1. Many states impose and enforce similar prohibitions. Notwithstanding the federal ban, as of the date of this guidance, 20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized certain marijuana-related activity. In light of these developments, U.S. Department of Justice Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole issued a memorandum (the “Cole Memo”) to all United States Attorneys providing updated guidance to federal prosecutors concerning marijuana enforcement under the CSA2. The Cole Memo guidance applies to all of DOJ’s federal enforcement activity, including civil enforcement and criminal investigations and prosecutions, concerning marijuana in all states.
The Cole Memo reiterates Congress’s determination that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a serious crime that provides a significant source of revenue to large-scale criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels. The Cole Memo notes that DOJ is committed to enforcement of the CSA consistent with those determinations. It also notes that DOJ is committed to using its investigative and prosecutorial resources to address the most significant threats in the most effective, consistent, and rational way. In furtherance of those objectives, the Cole Memo provides guidance to DOJ attorneys and law enforcement to focus their enforcement resources on persons or organizations whose conduct interferes with any one or more of the following important priorities (the “Cole Memo priorities”):3
- Preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors;
- Preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels;
- Preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;
- Preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity;
- Preventing violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana;
- Preventing drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;
- Preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands; and
- Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.
Concurrently with this FinCEN guidance, Deputy Attorney General Cole is issuing supplemental guidance directing that prosecutors also consider these enforcement priorities with respect to federal money laundering, unlicensed money transmitter, and BSA offenses predicated on marijuana-related violations of the CSA.4
Providing Financial Services to Marijuana-Related Businesses
This FinCEN guidance clarifies how financial institutions can provide services to marijuana-related businesses consistent with their BSA obligations. In general, the decision to open, close, or refuse any particular account or relationship should be made by each financial institution based on a number of factors specific to that institution. These factors may include its particular business objectives, an evaluation of the risks associated with offering a particular product or service, and its capacity to manage those risks effectively. Thorough customer due diligence is a critical aspect of making this assessment.
In assessing the risk of providing services to a marijuana-related business, a financial institution should conduct customer due diligence that includes: (i) verifying with the appropriate state authorities whether the business is duly licensed and registered; (ii) reviewing the license application (and related documentation) submitted by the business for obtaining a state license to operate its marijuana-related business; (iii) requesting from state licensing and enforcement authorities available information about the business and related parties; (iv) developing an understanding of the normal and expected activity for the business, including the types of products to be sold and the type of customers to be served (e.g., medical versus recreational customers); (v) ongoing monitoring of publicly available sources for adverse information about the business and related parties; (vi) ongoing monitoring for suspicious activity, including for any of the red flags described in this guidance; and (vii) refreshing information obtained as part of customer due diligence on a periodic basis and commensurate with the risk. With respect to information regarding state licensure obtained in connection with such customer due diligence, a financial institution may reasonably rely on the accuracy of information provided by state licensing authorities, where states make such information available.
As part of its customer due diligence, a financial institution should consider whether a marijuana-related business implicates one of the Cole Memo priorities or violates state law. This is a particularly important factor for a financial institution to consider when assessing the risk of providing financial services to a marijuana-related business. Considering this factor also enables the financial institution to provide information in BSA reports pertinent to law enforcement’s priorities. A financial institution that decides to provide financial services to a marijuana-related business would be required to file suspicious activity reports (“SARs”) as described below.
Filing Suspicious Activity Reports on Marijuana-Related Businesses
The obligation to file a SAR is unaffected by any state law that legalizes marijuana-related activity. A financial institution is required to file a SAR if, consistent with FinCEN regulations, the financial institution knows, suspects, or has reason to suspect that a transaction conducted or attempted by, at, or through the financial institution: (i) involves funds derived from illegal activity or is an attempt to disguise funds derived from illegal activity; (ii) is designed to evade regulations promulgated under the BSA, or (iii) lacks a business or apparent lawful purpose.5 Because federal law prohibits the distribution and sale of marijuana, financial transactions involving a marijuana-related business would generally involve funds derived from illegal activity. Therefore, a financial institution is required to file a SAR on activity involving a marijuana-related business (including those duly licensed under state law), in accordance with this guidance and FinCEN’s suspicious activity reporting requirements and related thresholds.
One of the BSA’s purposes is to require financial institutions to file reports that are highly useful in criminal investigations and proceedings. The guidance below furthers this objective by assisting financial institutions in determining how to file a SAR that facilitates law enforcement’s access to information pertinent to a priority.
“Marijuana Limited” SAR Filings
A financial institution providing financial services to a marijuana-related business that it reasonably believes, based on its customer due diligence, does not implicate one of the Cole Memo priorities or violate state law should file a “Marijuana Limited” SAR. The content of this SAR should be limited to the following information: (i) identifying information of the subject and related parties; (ii) addresses of the subject and related parties; (iii) the fact that the filing institution is filing the SAR solely because the subject is engaged in a marijuana-related business; and (iv) the fact that no additional suspicious activity has been identified. Financial institutions should use the term “MARIJUANA LIMITED” in the narrative section.
A financial institution should follow FinCEN’s existing guidance on the timing of filing continuing activity reports for the same activity initially reported on a “Marijuana Limited” SAR.6 The continuing activity report may contain the same limited content as the initial SAR, plus details about the amount of deposits, withdrawals, and transfers in the account since the last SAR. However, if, in the course of conducting customer due diligence (including ongoing monitoring for red flags), the financial institution detects changes in activity that potentially implicate one of the Cole Memo priorities or violate state law, the financial institution should file a “Marijuana Priority” SAR.
“Marijuana Priority” SAR Filings
A financial institution filing a SAR on a marijuana-related business that it reasonably believes, based on its customer due diligence, implicates one of the Cole Memo priorities or violates state law should file a “Marijuana Priority” SAR. The content of this SAR should include comprehensive detail in accordance with existing regulations and guidance. Details particularly relevant to law enforcement in this context include: (i) identifying information of the subject and related parties; (ii) addresses of the subject and related parties; (iii) details regarding the enforcement priorities the financial institution believes have been implicated; and (iv) dates, amounts, and other relevant details of financial transactions involved in the suspicious activity. Financial institutions should use the term “MARIJUANA PRIORITY” in the narrative section to help law enforcement distinguish these SARs.7
If a financial institution deems it necessary to terminate a relationship with a marijuana-related business in order to maintain an effective anti-money laundering compliance program, it should file a SAR and note in the narrative the basis for the termination. Financial institutions should use the term “MARIJUANA TERMINATION” in the narrative section. To the extent the financial institution becomes aware that the marijuana-related business seeks to move to a second financial institution, FinCEN urges the first institution to use Section 314(b) voluntary information sharing (if it qualifies) to alert the second financial institution of potential illegal activity. See Section 314(b) Fact Sheet for more information.8
Red Flags to Distinguish Priority SARs
The following red flags indicate that a marijuana-related business may be engaged in activity that implicates one of the Cole Memo priorities or violates state law. These red flags indicate only possible signs of such activity, and also do not constitute an exhaustive list. It is thus important to view any red flag(s) in the context of other indicators and facts, such as the financial institution’s knowledge about the underlying parties obtained through its customer due diligence. Further, the presence of any of these red flags in a given transaction or business arrangement may indicate a need for additional due diligence, which could include seeking information from other involved financial institutions under Section 314(b). These red flags are based primarily upon schemes and typologies described in SARs or identified by our law enforcement and regulatory partners, and may be updated in future guidance.
- A customer appears to be using a state-licensed marijuana-related business as a front or pretext to launder money derived from other criminal activity (i.e., not related to marijuana) or derived from marijuana-related activity not permitted under state law. Relevant indicia could include:
- The business receives substantially more revenue than may reasonably be expected given the relevant limitations imposed by the state in which it operates.
- The business receives substantially more revenue than its local competitors or than might be expected given the population demographics.
- The business is depositing more cash than is commensurate with the amount of marijuana-related revenue it is reporting for federal and state tax purposes.
- The business is unable to demonstrate that its revenue is derived exclusively from the sale of marijuana in compliance with state law, as opposed to revenue derived from (i) the sale of other illicit drugs, (ii) the sale of marijuana not in compliance with state law, or (iii) other illegal activity.
- The business makes cash deposits or withdrawals over a short period of time that are excessive relative to local competitors or the expected activity of the business.
- Deposits apparently structured to avoid Currency Transaction Report (“CTR”) requirements.
- Rapid movement of funds, such as cash deposits followed by immediate cash withdrawals.
- Deposits by third parties with no apparent connection to the accountholder.
- Excessive commingling of funds with the personal account of the business’s owner(s) or manager(s), or with accounts of seemingly unrelated businesses.
- Individuals conducting transactions for the business appear to be acting on behalf of other, undisclosed parties of interest.
- Financial statements provided by the business to the financial institution are inconsistent with actual account activity.
- A surge in activity by third parties offering goods or services to marijuana-related businesses, such as equipment suppliers or shipping servicers.
- The business is unable to produce satisfactory documentation or evidence to demonstrate that it is duly licensed and operating consistently with state law.
- The business is unable to demonstrate the legitimate source of significant outside investments.
- A customer seeks to conceal or disguise involvement in marijuana-related business activity. For example, the customer may be using a business with a non-descript name (e.g., a “consulting,” “holding,” or “management” company) that purports to engage in commercial activity unrelated to marijuana, but is depositing cash that smells like marijuana.
- Review of publicly available sources and databases about the business, its owner(s), manager(s), or other related parties, reveal negative information, such as a criminal record, involvement in the illegal purchase or sale of drugs, violence, or other potential connections to illicit activity.
- The business, its owner(s), manager(s), or other related parties are, or have been, subject to an enforcement action by the state or local authorities responsible for administering or enforcing marijuana-related laws or regulations.
- A marijuana-related business engages in international or interstate activity, including by receiving cash deposits from locations outside the state in which the business operates, making or receiving frequent or large interstate transfers, or otherwise transacting with persons or entities located in different states or countries.
- The owner(s) or manager(s) of a marijuana-related business reside outside the state in which the business is located.
- A marijuana-related business is located on federal property or the marijuana sold by the business was grown on federal property.
- A marijuana-related business’s proximity to a school is not compliant with state law.
- A marijuana-related business purporting to be a “non-profit” is engaged in commercial activity inconsistent with that classification, or is making excessive payments to its manager(s) or employee(s).
Currency Transaction Reports and Form 8300’s
Financial institutions and other persons subject to FinCEN’s regulations must report currency transactions in connection with marijuana-related businesses the same as they would in any other context, consistent with existing regulations and with the same thresholds that apply. For example, banks and money services businesses would need to file CTRs on the receipt or withdrawal by any person of more than $10,000 in cash per day. Similarly, any person or entity engaged in a non-financial trade or business would need to report transactions in which they receive more than $10,000 in cash and other monetary instruments for the purchase of goods or services on FinCEN Form 8300 (Report of Cash Payments Over $10,000 Received in a Trade or Business). A business engaged in marijuana-related activity may not be treated as a non-listed business under 31 C.F.R. § 1020.315(e)(8), and therefore, is not eligible for consideration for an exemption with respect to a bank’s CTR obligations under 31 C.F.R. § 1020.315(b)(6).
FinCEN’s enforcement priorities in connection with this guidance will focus on matters of systemic or significant failures, and not isolated lapses in technical compliance. Financial institutions with questions about this guidance are encouraged to contact FinCEN’s Resource Center at (800) 767-2825, where industry questions can be addressed and monitored for the purpose of providing any necessary additional guidance.
1. Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. § 801, et seq.
2. James M. Cole, Deputy Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, Memorandum for All United States Attorneys: Guidance Regarding Marijuana Enforcement (August 29, 2013), available at http://www.justice.gov/iso/opa/resources/3052013829132756857467.pdf.
3. The Cole Memo notes that these enforcement priorities are listed in general terms; each encompasses a variety of conduct that may merit civil or criminal enforcement of the CSA.
4. James M. Cole, Deputy Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, Memorandum for All United States Attorneys: Guidance Regarding Marijuana Related Financial Crimes (February 14, 2014).
5. See, e.g., 31 CFR § 1020.320. Financial institutions shall file with FinCEN, to the extent and in the manner required, a report of any suspicious transaction relevant to a possible violation of law or regulation. A financial institution may also file with FinCEN a SAR with respect to any suspicious transaction that it believes is relevant to the possible violation of any law or regulation but whose reporting is not required by FinCEN regulations.
6. Frequently Asked Questions Regarding the FinCEN Suspicious Activity Report (Question #16), available at: http://fincen.gov/whatsnew/html/sar_faqs.html (providing guidance on the filing timeframe for submitting a continuing activity report).
7. FinCEN recognizes that a financial institution filing a SAR on a marijuana-related business may not always be well-positioned to determine whether the business implicates one of the Cole Memo priorities or violates state law, and thus which terms would be most appropriate to include (i.e., “Marijuana Limited” or “Marijuana Priority”). For example, a financial institution could be providing services to another domestic financial institution that, in turn, provides financial services to a marijuana-related business. Similarly, a financial institution could be providing services to a non-financial customer that provides goods or services to a marijuana-related business (e.g., a commercial landlord that leases property to a marijuana-related business). In such circumstances where services are being provided indirectly, the financial institution may file SARs based on existing regulations and guidance without distinguishing between “Marijuana Limited” and “Marijuana Priority.” Whether the financial institution decides to provide indirect services to a marijuana-related business is a risk-based decision that depends on a number of factors specific to that institution and the relevant circumstances. In making this decision, the institution should consider the Cole Memo priorities, to the extent applicable.
8. Information Sharing Between Financial Institutions: Section 314(b) Fact Sheet, available at: http://fincen.gov/statutes_regs/patriot/pdf/314bfactsheet.pdf.