Why banks don't want money from legal pot shops

Monday, March 10, 2014 - 2:15pm

Legal marijuana sellers in Colorado and Washington have a cash problem.

They are making millions, but they can't take their profits to a bank.

The financial industry is refusing to work with pot retailers.

Its one of the biggest problems facing the new industry.

Seeds, soil, grow lights, and blowers: the raw materials to grow pot.

But to grow the industry, it takes the oxygen provided by bank accounts, loans, and lines of credit. A problem retail marijuana store owners are trying to work around.

"It would be nice if the banks would work with us. We're figuring out some systems. We've got safes. We don't keep it here," said Linda Andrews, owner of the Lodo Wellness Center.

So far the banks just say no.

From coast to coast, bank and credit union trade groups advising their member banks to steer clear of the marijuana business.

The president of the Colorado Bankers Association says there's only one remedy:
"It literally is going to take an act of Congress to address this,” said Don Childears.

The Obama administration recently gave the banks a green light for how to do business with legal marijuana companies.

But the banks say that guidance doesn't go far enough.

"This light is redder than ever. It actually moved us backwards in terms of banks being able to accommodate the marijuana businesses," Don Childears, president of the Colorado Bankers Association, said.

Here’s why: first, recreational pot is legal in Colorado and Washington, medical marijuana in 20 states and Washington D.C.

But under federal law, marijuana is no different than hard core illegal drugs like heroin and ecstasy.

Second, those new rules from the Obama administration say any bank doing business with a marijuana dispensary must prove:

the pot never makes it into the hands of children...

is never trafficked to another state...

is not smoked on federal property...

and has absolutely no ties to the drug cartels, among other things.

"While we don't really care to be doing the government's work for them, the bottom line is we can't comply with that.

There is simply no way that a bank can assert that marijuana isn't going to be used in certain fashions," Childears.

Powerful tool of capitalism, unavailable to the legal pot industry until the federal law changes.

(Reporter): "What's the legal risk for a bank allowing a pot dispensary to open up a checking account, a line of credit, a loan?”

(Paul Callan CNN Legal Analyst): "Well, the risk is if they're a federal bank they could lose their charter. They could also be prosecuted under a variety of federal regulations that have to do with money laundering. They have to follow these regulations very carefully and there's a great risk with an all cash business like a marijuana business."

All cash and no where to put it, an increasing safety risk and a quandary even the attorney general has noted.

"Huge amounts of cash, substantial amounts of cash, just kind of lying around with no place for it to appropriately deposited is something that would worry me from just a law enforcement perspective," said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
Thousands of stores, millions of plants, more than two billion in sales, but not a bank account to put it in.

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