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Breaking the Bank

It’s time to let the marijuana industry use banks

Nick Meyers Jul 6, 2017 1:00 AM

With dispensaries bringing in as much green as they ship out, it may come as a surprise that banks aren't ready to cash in on the booming industry.

One of the problems posed by continual federal restrictions is that banks operating across the nation aren't willing to risk lawsuits by accepting money earned from a technically illegal activity.

That means marijuana businesses usually find themselves with more cash than they can keep onsite, and without the services of a bank, that leads to less-secure storage methods offsite with around-the-clock security.

While some banks are willing to take the risk, most dispensaries come up with creative alternatives. A farm in California even reported burying their funds in safes around the property—not the most efficient or secure method, but hey, it worked for pirates, right?

In 2015, a Marijuana Business Daily survey of 400 marijuana businesses found 70 percent didn't have bank accounts. Nearly 50 percent of marijuana support businesses—those in the industry that don't deal with the plant directly—don't use banks either.

Marijuana businesses are therefore forced to pay for expenses like wages, taxes and advertisements in cash, which means carrying around sometimes thousands of dollars.

As marijuana sales grow, this creates problems not only in security, but in lost benefits of having the $6.7 billion industry part of the banking system to use those funds in banking services. While the industry is legal, we have yet to utilize the full potential of legalizing the business, retaining some of the drawbacks of the black market.

Technically, banks aren't legally prohibited from providing services to marijuana businesses. Alongside the Obama-era Cole Memo, which allows marijuana businesses to operate within the guidelines of their respective states, another memo allowed banks to partner with those businesses.

The guidelines for banks fell under the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which keeps track of illegal banking practices like money laundering—not the friendliest set of rules to encourage banks to work with the marijuana industry.

Banks are required to file special reports based on their activity with marijuana businesses, even if there's no suspicious activity, leading to a certain amount of austerity in forming partnerships in the marijuana industry.

It's time for this unfair and restrictive policy to change, and some members of Congress agree.

Senators from Colorado, Washington and Alaska—all states in which recreational marijuana in legal—have introduced legislation to allow banks to work with marijuana business without fear of persecution.

Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colorado) Danny Heck (D-Washington) and Don Young (R-Alaska) co-sponsored the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act. The bill is a revision of similar bills introduced in 2013 and 2015, both of which failed.

With a broader industry and acceptance of marijuana, perhaps the bill has a chance of finally bringing the marijuana industry into the banking fold and fully utilizing the benefits of what is becoming a massive nationwide industry.

It's time to treat marijuana like any other business and let them bank.