US to allow banks to do business with licensed marijuana companies

"One Girl Smokes Pot While Her Friend Watches During an Outing in Cedar Woods near Leakey, Texas." May, 1973. U.S. National Archives, via Flickr. Photographer: Marc St. Gil.

A breaking story that could become a significant step toward a legal marijuana economy in the United States:

From the Denver Post:

Banks were given a green light Friday to offer services to the legal marijuana industry, but must continue to report any suspicious activity specific to that industry to federal authorities.

The historic step brings marijuana businesses closer to legitimacy in states where pot is already legal, but it falls short of the legislative action many banks want to see before doing business with marijuana operators. That will be up to Congress to consider.

In a joint statement, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, said the move gives "greater financial transparency" to an industry that remains illegal in nearly every state.

The rules are issued by the Treasury and Justice Departments, and are intended to "move from the shadows the historically covert financial operations of marijuana businesses," a Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network rep told CNBC.

Earlier this week, a letter signed by 17 Democrat lawmakers and one Republican asked President Barack Obama to remove marijuana from its classification as a dangerous schedule 1 controlled narcotic.

They "cite Obama's recent comments that he sees smoking marijuana as no more dangerous than drinking alcohol." Under current federal classification, pot is in the same category as heroin and MDMA, drugs with high potential for abuse but "no accepted medical use." And that's just wrong.

Snip from CNN:

The lawmakers said marijuana's current classification "makes no sense," pointing to wasted law enforcement resources under "harsh, unrealistic, and unfair marijuana laws."

"You said that you don't believe marijuana is any more dangerous than alcohol: a fully legalized substance, and believe it to be less dangerous 'in terms of impact on the individual consumer.' This is true," the letter says.

"Marijuana, however, remains listed in the federal Controlled Substances Act at Schedule I, the strictest classification, along with heroin and LSD. This is a higher listing than cocaine and methamphetamine, Schedule II substances that you gave as examples of harder drugs."

In a recent New Yorker interview, the president said, "As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol."

Related: An op-ed in this week's New York Times by doctors who treat children who have epilepsy with cannabis, with promising results. We need more science.

And also related, our review from earlier this morning about a really good weed grinder.