Posted on December 30, 2013 | By

The first sales of legal marijuana in the United States (and, depending on how you look at it, the world) begins in Colorado on Jan. 1. Several news organizations report that more than a dozen stores have received both state and local jurisdiction licenses to open stores for selling recreational pot for the New Year.

As of right now, according to the Denver Westword, 14 stores are fully licensed to open in Denver and seven more will open elsewhere.

And that’s it for legal sales in the U.S. until mid-June sometime when retail stores in Washington will have product to sell to the public … you know … sell to ANYONE who can prove they are over 21 years old.

Here’s the latest update on licenses in Washington from the AP (… we’ll have a fully updated county-by-county list around Jan. 7 when all of the applications have been logged with the LCB):

Washington’s Liquor Control Board released updated figures Tuesday, saying it had received 3,746 applications to grow, process or sell cannabis under Washington’s recreational pot law passed by voters last year. The application window closed last week, but board spokesman Mikhail Carpenter said there is still a backlog of submissions that haven’t been processed yet.

Investigators have already started reviewing applicants, and the state hopes to begin issuing licenses at the end of February. Applicants must undergo background checks, be residents of Washington state, and have their business areas inspected by the state.

Along with 1,670 producer applications and 1,209 processor applications, the state has released details on 867 proposed retail outlets. The state is planning to cap the number of pot shops at 334 statewide, so some areas are expected to face a lottery for retail licenses.

After the first licenses are issued, the state expects it will take some time for marijuana to move through the system from production to sale.

Update (12/30): Brian Smith, a spokesman for the Liquor Control Board, says the LCB will issue licenses as they are approved, and they are processing growers and processors first “because they need to be up and running.”  The window for the board to issue all the licenses they are going to is about 90 days, he said, because while a liquor license takes about 60 days to approved (with background checks and so on), marijuana licenses require more review.

So, he writes, “when you combine the extra work with the glut of applications within a short application window you get the estimated 90 days for the average application” to be approved or denied.

On the federal level

The elephant in the room when it comes to federal rules is … Will marijuana businesses be able to find banks to take their money and establish more than cash-only retail exchanges?

Answer: Unknown.

As we reported earlier this month:

A key group of “high-level representatives from financial institutions, federal law enforcement agencies, regulatory authorities and others from the private and public sector” met (Dec. 12) at the U.S. Treasury in Washington, D.C., to talk over the nation’s banking industry and one item on their agenda was what to do with money from marijuana businesses.

That group of high-level folks meets a couple of times a year as the Bank Secrecy Act Advisory Group (BSAAG). It’s a task force established by Congress to coordinate Bank Secrecy Act-related matters.

“The meetings are private and designed to assist the frank exchange of views among financial industries, regulators and law enforcement. They meet twice per year. One of the items on today’s meeting agenda concerned banking services to marijuana businesses,” said Steve Hudak, a spokesman for the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).

That’s the good news … provided, of course, the feds create a clear policy that gives bankers enough confidence that they won’t be hauled before a grand jury for taking on the banking needs of marijuana businesses.

The bad news right now is that we’re pretty unlikely to hear what went on in that meeting. Those high-level folks in BSAAG don’t issue statements, Hudak explained, and are not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests. So, either someone from that group will have to spill the beans or their thoughts will be referred to in whatever press release comes from FinCEN and the Department of Justice about the matter.

On the Congressional level

There are two marijuana bills that have been introduce in Congress, neither of which have seen a vote:

The “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2013” has 16 co-sponsors (one Republican) and is sitting in the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, And Investigations. It’s also the most-viewed bill in Congress.