Colorado medical marijuana business owners are desperately writing letters to every bank in the country asking if they can please, oh please, just have a bank account.
About 150 dispensary owners across the state are looking for banks that will take their accounts, said Tanya Garduno, president of the Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council and owner of Medical Cannabis Center, reports Monica Mendoza at InsuranceNewsNet.
The medical marijuana industry has already survived regulations, licensing, security and thick stacks of almost impenetrable rules and legalese.
But the banking issue “could be the deal breaker,” Garduno said. “We have to account for everything — sales, patient lists — trying to put this together with no bank could really kill us.”
The last bank in Colorado to openly welcome dispensaries’ business — the Colorado Springs State Bank — sent notice to the shops almost two months ago that they had until the end of September to clear out their accounts. That ban is owned by parent company Herring Bank, based in Texas.
“Everyone is trying to make it work on a cash basis,” Garduno said. “It’s going to be a funky next three months. I’m sure there will be folks that will shut down.”
Medical marijuana businesses in Colorado Springs have generated about $23 million in sales and contributed $580,533 in sales taxes so far this year. That’s a 52 percent increase over last year’s numbers, and a sign that the industry continues to grow.
But most bankers won’t touch medical marijuana dispensaries with a 10-foot pole.
Banks fear federal charges of money laundering and drug trafficking. While use and sale of medical marijuana are legal in Colorado, the federal government does not recognize any legal use for cannabis.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), one of three banking regulators, hasn’t issued guidance for banks doing business with medical marijuana dispensaries. But federal law does require banks to report “suspicious activity.”
And in June, U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a memo to U.S. Attorneys in medical marijuana states saying “Persons who are in the business of cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana, and those who knowingly facilitate such activities, are in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, regardless of state law.”
Colorado dispensary owners are planning to fight.
They plan to push for changes in federal law to take marijuana off Schedule I, which officially means it has no accepted medical uses, a high potential for abuse and addiction, and is too dangerous to use even under medical supervision — you know, like heroin. (Even cocaine and methamphetamine are considered by the U.S. federal government to be Schedule II drugs — officially “less dangerous” than marijuana.)
The dispensary owners and supporters want changes in banking rules that would allow banks to work with medical marijuana businesses without fear of conflicting with federal regulations.
And when the Colorado Legislature goes into session in January, they will push for a change in state law that would allow them to open their own bank, one that does not require federal insurance.
“There is a slight chance they will pass,” Black said. “But, I think we are knocking at the door.”
Without bank accounts, dispensary owners don’t have access to ATM machines and are paying bills in cash or are buying prepaid credit cards.
The dispensaries will be begging for a bank until federal laws change, according to Garduno.
“We need to cut off the short term bleeding,” Garduno said. “We will call every bank in the country to find a bank to give us a shot.”