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What are The Cole Memos?

November 17, 2020 12:29 pm

By Donya Parrish, MCU VP- Risk Management

There is a possibility of a new U.S. Attorney General in 2021 and some discussion that, as a result, The Cole Memos might be reinstated. As a refresher of what they are, we put together this recap.

In January 2018, (then) U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded The Cole Memos, which financial institutions and marijuana providers across the country had relied upon. As CNN Politics reported, he “rescinded a trio of memos from the Obama administration that had adopted a policy of non-interference with marijuana-friendly state laws.”

The move essentially shifted federal policy from the “hands-off approach adopted under the previous administration to potentially unleashing federal prosecutors across the country to decide individually how to prioritize resources to crack down on pot possession, distribution, and cultivation of the drug in states where it is legal.”

Many jurisdictions have continued to rely on The Cole Memos as a benchmark of expectations for SAR filing and enforcement. The priorities laid out in them include preventing the following:

  • Distribution of marijuana to minors;
  • Revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels;
  • The diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;
  • State-authorized marijuana activity being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of illegal drugs or other illegal activity;
  • Violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana;
  • Drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;
  • The growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands; and
  • Marijuana possession or use on federal property.

If a credit union becomes aware that any of the above is occurring through an account, a SAR filing should specifically reference the priorities your staff believe are being violated.

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