President-elect Donald Trump announced Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as his pick for attorney general. In the past, Session has been an outspoken opponent of state legalized marijuana. In fact, at one point, Sessions reportedly stated that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
Trump, however, is on record as stating that legalized marijuana should be dealt with at the state level. Given the differences in opinions on this topic between Sessions and Trump, there are serious questions as to how the Trump administration will deal with the enforcement (or non-enforcement) of federal marijuana laws going forward.
This uncertainty not only affects the marijuana industry but also other businesses and industries that interact with the marijuana industry. One example is the financial industry. To date, many banks and credit unions have been reticent to provide banking services to the marijuana industry because the manufacture, distribution, and possession of marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Some financial institutions, however, have been more willing to provide those services, in part, because the federal government has largely taken a hands off approach to enforcement of federal marijuana laws. In fact, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) have even issued guidance to the financial industry on the issue of providing banking services to the marijuana industry.
Nevertheless, because the Sessions appointment creates some uncertainty as to whether the federal government will shift its approach to legalized marijuana, financial institutions (and other businesses providing services to marijuana businesses) should pay close attention to this issue, specifically how the Trump administration outlines its marijuana enforcement priorities and positions going forward.