Dispensaries and the World of Banking

Summary and opinion by Wendy Anderson.

It is legal in 23 states on some degree to sell marijuana, however these dispensaries are still forced to act as though they are running underground operations when it comes to their finances. They are constantly in danger of being robbed due to having to do business in cash, but are expected to follow a multitude of  rigorous rules. Otherwise, if they miss one step, the business owners are in danger of being shut down or even worse. Somehow it just doesn’t add up. Or does it? 

Financial institutions are federally regulated and because marijuana is still classified as a schedule 1 narcotic, the bank or credit union could possibly be subject to prosecution on money laundering charges for accepting clients who deal with marijuana. However, Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a memo to all of the institutions about the low priority the Justice Department placed on the matter in August of 2013. The memo stated that as long as the dispensary followed some principles such as, not selling to minors, they would be fine.

Apparently the memo was not enough to ease the banker’s minds. According to Robert Rowe, Vice President and chief counsel for the American Banker’s Association, they also have reputation worries. 

Bankers worry about the minority and losing their business if they were to become a marijuana supporting institution.  

One Senator from Oregon, Senator Jeff Merkley, is proposing a bill to grant immunity to financial institutions from prosecution though! “It’s time to let banks serve these legal businesses without fearing devastating reprisals from the federal government”. He said. However the bill has been stuck in the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee since July, being voted against by the Committee chairman Richard Shelby of Alabama. 

Merkley is trying to come up with a way around the block which will help reach the goal. Spending bills are usually considered “must pass” legislation.

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