Banking Is An Issue For Many Medical Marijuana Businesses
One of the most interesting panels I have ever attended was at the 2012 National Marijuana Business Conference in Denver earlier this month. The panel was titled, "Risky Business: Overview of the Legal Risks Facing MMJ Companies, Vendors and Investors," and was hosted by Christian Sederberg (Vicente Sederberg LLC), Khurshid Khoja (Greenbridge Corporate Counsel), and Chris Lindsey (Montana Cannabis Industry Association). During the panel discussion, the three panelists discussed the issue of banking, and how most financial institutions won't open accounts for medical marijuana businesses.
I found the following post on the Northwest Credit Union Association's (NWCUA) website, which suggests that credit unions, at least in the Northwest, might be willing to consider allowing business accounts, but require a mountain of additional requirements. I personally know of many dispensary owners that have accounts open right now (at banks and credit unions), but for every one of them, I know another dispensary owner that had their account(s) frozen, closed, or confiscated...Below is what NWCUA had to say:
What should a credit union do if approached by someone wanting to open a business account for a medical marijuana dispensary or operation? There are a lot of things to keep in mind:
First, while possession of medical marijuana is legal in both states, this is a Federal crime. And neither state allow for the purchase or selling of medical marijuana.
Second, enhanced due diligence and continued account monitoring required. Due to the high potential for money laundering, other illicit gains, or trafficking issues you will need to perform very detailed due diligence and have a means for continued monitoring of the account transactions.
Third, it is illegal to sell marijuana. What kind of transactions will be coming through the account?
Fourth, expect the DOJ to provide you with regular Formal Written Requests for account information and transactions. While the Right to Financial Privacy Act does apply in cases of the Federal government asking for information about customer accounts, the Act defines a "customer" as "...any person or authorized representative of that person who utilized or is utilizing any service of a financial institution, or for who a financial institution is acting or has acted as a fiduciary, in relation to an account maintained in the person's name;" A "person" is defined as "...an individual or a partnership of five or fewer individuals;" A non-profit organization is not a person. The Right to Financial Privacy Act does not apply to the dispensaries.
Fifth, expect to be filling out regular Currency Transaction Reports. A credit union in another part of the country reported it regularly files weekly CTRs in amounts of up to $90,000 for one of its medical marijuana dispensaries.
Sixth, safety and soundness. Be sure to analyze the risk to reputation to your credit union for any involvement with an operation that is only quazi-legal in the state and illegal according to Federal code.
Medical marijuana continues to see increased use as part of a regimen for serious healthcare conditions. Credit unions must perform some serious risk analysis when approached by individuals or groups hoping to open business accounts for medical marijuana operations.