Colorado’s weed business resembles a mobster scene from another era. Large sums of cash circulate through dispensaries daily. Deposits get carried out by armed guards in armored trucks. Piles of bills are locked in safes.
But there’s nothing illegal going on here – at least, at the state level.
Colorado’s U.S. senators consider the cannabis industry legitimate and see that it is highly regulated, but because federal and state laws clash when it comes to legality, banks won’t touch dispensary money.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have to be tracked and moved without banking tools other legitimate businesses use, and Republican Senator Cory Gardner and Democratic Senator Michael Bennet want that changed.
Last week, the duo joined Oregon Democratic Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden to introduce the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2015, a bill that would give legal marijuana businesses the right to access banking services.
The measure aims to build business relationships between banks and dispensary owners by preventing federal banking regulators from punishing banks for providing financial services to cannabis businesses, while maintaining each bank’s right to choose not to offer services to the industry.
Daniel Rogers, chief financial officer for RiverRock medical and recreational dispensaries, sees first hand the risk of moving cash as a safety and security issue.
RiverRock, like many dispensaries around the state, requires armed guards and strict tracking programs to monitor the flow of currency, which only adds to the cost of running a business.
“The industry is just merely asking for checking account access and a place to make a deposit,” says Rogers. “It is very hard to manage cash and pay all of your bills in cash.
RiverRock pays sales tax in the tens of thousands of dollars every month.
“Delivering that amount of cash puts workers at risk. It’s not the way it should be done,” Rogers said.
He sees the bill as a no-brainer, considering the amount of time, effort and legislation that has gone into regulating cannabis sales since legalization.
“It’s a double-edged sword for the state,” he said. “We’ve created this monster regulatory model, but the primary check and balance to the model is making sure that there’s no money laundering and that sales are being recorded accurately.
“I just can’t think of another business — especially one as regulated as cannabis — that doesn’t have access to banking. It’s gotten to the point of being foolish that we can’t figure this out.”
This bill would be a step toward dispensaries forging the kind of legal connections banks have with other industries, said Adam Bozzi, Bennet’s communications director. “For us, what’s not worth the risk is having that much cash flowing in and out of all of these businesses.”
Gardner’s office did not respond to requests for comment on the bill.
In a release, he said, “This commonsense legislation solves a major public safety problem in my state by giving legitimate businesses acting in compliance with state laws access to the banking system.”
Photo credit: 401(K) 2012, Creative Commons, Flickr.