As more states legalize pot, the industry is having some success in using the banking system. Still, the threat of a federal crackdown looms.
State and local officials in places that recently legalized marijuana are bracing for the arrival of a sector that largely runs on cash. They’re envisioning burglars targeting dispensaries and business owners showing up at tax offices with duffel bags full of money, Stateline reports. The marijuana industry’s banking problems may be more manageable than many officials realize. Washington state last year successfully pushed almost all legal marijuana businesses to open bank accounts and pay their taxes with a check or other non-cash method. Hawaii this year announced a cashless system for buying medical marijuana, reliant on a technology analogous to PayPal. “We’re definitely seeing more businesses in the industry getting banked every day,” said Aaron Smith of the National Cannabis Industry Association. Despite the legal risk involved in serving the industry, almost 400 banks and credit unions now do, according to the U.S. Treasury — a number that has more than tripled since 2014.
That’s reassuring news for California, where sales of recreational pot start next month, as well as for Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts, where voters approved recreational marijuana sales last year, and Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota, where voters approved medicinal sales. The progress in some legal markets remains fragile. The federal government still considers marijuana to be a dangerous, illegal drug. States can only permit marijuana sales — and financial institutions can only serve marijuana-related businesses — thanks to Obama-era guidelines that create wiggle room in federal law. The Trump administration is rethinking those guidelines, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said last week.