With the somewhat recent legalization of medical marijuana in Washington, D.C., there are still some unanswered questions of how marijuana can be sold when marijuana distribution is still a federal drug crime. While District medical marijuana growers haven't run into this problem yet, distributors in several of the 16 states in which medical marijuana is legal have had trouble working with banks. Many banks are hesitant to deposit money from marijuana dispensaries because it is unclear whether the federal government may classify it as money laundering.
The Department of Justice has turned away from a more lenient stance in the past year in regard to medical marijuana. In October 2009, a Department memo told U.S. Attorneys not to prosecute people who were operating under state medical marijuana laws. Last June, however, U.S. Attorneys were instructed to enforce the Controlled Substances Act "in all states."
If there is this much confusion about which laws to follow, it is likely licensed District distributors will face some of the same problems when they open their medical marijuana dispensaries. The uncertainty on what is legal and what the federal government will prosecute will most likely deter people from becoming dispensers in the first place.
It is unfair to prosecute someone for a law that is vague. If you are working within the medical marijuana field and you are attempting to follow local laws and regulations, you should not be afraid the federal government is going to show up to arrest you. Until the law is clear, however, it seems like many people will be trying to reconcile simultaneously being law-abiding citizens of the District of Columbia and federal criminals.
Source: Fox Business, "Banks in Medical-Marijuana States Going to Pot?" Kathryn Glass, Sept. 19, 2011