Banks Still Balking At Opening Accounts For Legit Marijuana Businesses

While medical marijuana is legal in more than 20 states and Washington, D.C., and legalized for recreational use in two states, pot-based businesses that operate out in the open and pay taxes are still having difficulty finding banks that will take their money, in spite of recent federal guidance intended to help them out.

In February, the Justice and Treasury departments issued new guidelines that were supposed to provide banks a way to accept deposits from legitimate marijuana operations without worrying too much about later being spanked by the feds because the U.S. government has yet to legalize the product.

But the Wall Street Journal reports that many banks looked at this guidance the way many of us would when a friend with a scary-looking snake in his hands promises “Don’t worry… he won’t bite.”

“Most banks are trying to avoid this and mitigate it if they inadvertently find a customer with a marijuana-related business,” explains the president of North Valley Bank in Colorado.

And it’s not just the regional banks that won’t touch the stuff, with Bank of America and Chase both saying no to pot money.

This is causing a problem that is only going to get worse. With marijuana sales legalized in Washington and Colorado, legitimate entrepreneurs are stuck having to deal with large amounts of cash they can’t deposit. And while it might be amusing to imagine sleeping on a bed stuffed with cash, the reality is very different.

There’s the obvious safety issue faced by all cash-heavy businesses — where and how to store it; how to transport it without being robbed.

One Denver-based businessman tells the Journal he’s had to hire a private security firm to transport his cash to a non-bank storage location.

Former law-enforcement and military officers at Blue Line Protection in Denver are seeing green because of the current situation, as they now specialize in transporting cash and marijuana for local businesses.

“For many of us who were in law enforcement, it’s very surreal now that it’s legal,” says the company’s vice president of marketing.

Without access to bank accounts, businesses are not only paying their large tax and licensing bills in cash, they have to pay their vendors and contractors with paper money.

One business owner tells the Journal he spent had a $1 million warehouse constructed for his operation and had to pay the contractor in cash.

And of course, with all this cash flying around, it’s hard for the states — who legalized marijuana in no small part to reap the tax revenue — to know if businesses are being honest about their sales.

“We’re incredibly concerned,” Colorado’s director of marijuana coordination admits to the Journal. “As long as it is a cash industry, we can’t sufficiently regulate their money.”

Meanwhile, the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network says things are going just fine.

“From our perspective, the guidance is having the intended effect,” said the FinCEN director recently. “It is facilitating access to financial services for marijuana-related businesses, while ensuring that their activity is transparent.”