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 anxiously envisioning burglars targeting dispensaries and business owners showing up at tax offices with duffel bags full of money.
But the marijuana industry’s banking problems may be more manageable than many officials realize.
Just ask Washington state, which 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. Or Hawaii, which earlier 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, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, a trade group. Despite the legal risk involved in serving the cannabis 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.
But the progress that has occurred 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. “We’re looking at that very hard right now, we had a meeting yesterday and talked about it at some length,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at a press conference last week. “It’s my