The Obama administration has sent a message to the nation's bankers: Even though the sale of marijuana is a federal crime, they can provide service to this new industry without fear of prosecution, but only if the bankers follow a detailed list of guidelines.
Many praised the move as giving financial institutions "the green light" to finally serve the multibillion dollar cannabis industry. But the nation's bankers don't see it that way.
They say the guidance from the Department of Justice and the Department of Treasury doesn't change the fact that possession or distribution of marijuana violates federal law, and any bank that supports those illegal activities could be prosecuted or sanctioned.
(Read more: US issues new rules on banks and legal marijuana)
The Colorado Bankers Association called the guidance a red light. The association's senior vice president, Jenifer Waller, said the government outlined "all the risks involved of banking the marijuana industry" and "made it very clear that financial institutions can still face criminal liability."
Waller told CNBC financial institutions in Colorado would like to service the legal marijuana industry in that state, but she does not know of a single one that changed its position as a result of the federal memos released last week.
"Operating on a memo that is in conflict with the law is just unwise for any business, including financial institutions," Waller said.
Jim Pishue, president of the Washington Bankers Association, points out that guidelines don't supersede federal law, which categorizes marijuana as a controlled substance that cannot be legally sold anywhere in the U.S. And guidance, he noted, can change at any time.
"The guidelines may give some a little bit of confidence, but I don't think it will give them enough to bank these folks," Pishue said.
The National Cannabis Industry Association believes it's too soon to know what effect the new guidance will have. The association has praised the feds for providing a roadmap for financial institutions that want to work with legal marijuana businesses.
"We don't need every bank in America or even every bank in Colorado and Washington to suddenly start offering accounts to our businesses," said Deputy Director Taylor West. "I think there will be some very smart banks and credit unions that will recognize that this is a potentially valuable new industry for them."
And that may happen—eventually.