Washington (MunichNOW News/dpa) – The US government on Friday issued guidelines to the banking industry aimed at making it easier for banks to give newly legalized marijuana businesses access to financial services.

Legal marijuana growing in Colorado, USA -- photo:dpa
Legal marijuana growing in Colorado, USA — photo:dpa

Banks have been reluctant to offer loans to marijuana businesses and provide even basic services such as support for credit card transactions because of fear that they could be prosecuted under existing federal drug and money laundering statutes.

The US treasury and justice departments issued the guidelines in separate advisories. Treasury’s advisory is directed toward the banking industry, while the Justice Department advisory is for federal prosecutors across the US.

The actions come a few weeks after Attorney General Eric Holder expressed concern that legal marijuana operations were dealing largely in cash.

“The (Justice) department shares the concerns of public officials and law enforcement about the public safety risks associated with businesses that handle significant amounts of cash,” a Justice Department spokeswoman told USA Today.

Colorado and Washington are the US states in the forefront of a movement to liberalize and regulate the sale of marijuana in the US. Colorado has permitted the sales since the beginning of the year; Washington marijuana retailers are expected to start selling later this year.

Colorado and Washington are among 20 states and Washington, DC, that have legalized marijuana for medical use.