Traditionally banks initially turned their backs on the marijuana industry, fearing a revocation of their charters by the federal government.
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This has inhibited the growth of the industry and made business that much harder to conduct. That’s all changing. More and more banks and credit unions are working with operators inside the industry. They are starting to work with growers, distributors, manufacturers, rec shops and dispensaries. Ancillary businesses are also gaining larger access to banking services. Though some traction has been found, there is still quite a distance to go before cannabusinesses are receiving all the services regular businesses do.
A tiny fraction of financial institutions do business with the industry. This year, even more are set to do so. But the big chain banks will still wait it out on the sidelines until a permanent change comes from Congress. Still, those inside the industry say the warming of some banks is an optimistic sign. Within the next few months, everywhere where it is legal, there will be banks interacting with cannabusinesses. So how are they doing it?
Small financial institutions are partnering with risk management, compliance, payment processing and technology firms in order to interact with players in the industry. MBank is one such institution. Out of Portland, Or. MBank is FDIC-insured for up to $250,000. By partnering with Guardian Data Systems, they are now able to offer services to cannabis-based operators in Washington State, Oregon and Colorado. They have checking accounts, payroll accounts, debit card and bill pay services, online banking and even schedule armored car service. MBank is only allowing 420 accounts for the first year, far less than is needed in those states. First Security Bank of Nevada is now working with about 100 cannabis companies.
CEO John Sullivan says, “I believe that there will be a legitimate banking solution available in just about every state by late summer 2015.” Then there are credit unions. Washington State has O Bee Credit Union and Salal. Colorado has the Fourth Credit Union. Though these are all providing banking services, none are offering lines of credit, yet. Another problem is that there are cannabis-operators opening bank accounts for phony businesses in order to have access to banking. This can be considered money laundering, opening oneself up to federal prosecution. Still, for legitimate operators who avoid this kind of action, the future looks bright.