Since the start of legal medical marijuana, one of the biggest issues for the industry has been lack of access to banking. The cash-only nature of legal marijuana sales makes it a riskier business than is necessary; unfortunately banks are reluctant to work with cannabusinesses as they could be charged with money laundering, among other crimes, on a federal level. The fact of the matter is, not a single bank has made the decision to take on customers who are running medical or recreational marijuana businesses.
Last month, the Alaska USA Federal Credit Union sent out a letter to all customers who were currently in the process of applying for cannabis business licenses. “Alaska USA is a federally chartered credit union, we do not offer account services to any person or organization engaged in the operation of a marijuana-related business, or any other type of business that violates federal law,” the letter said.
It is not unheard of for cannabis industry workers to find their accounts frozen or closed unexpectedly – however, it is definitely unusual to see those who are merely applying for a license to face these issues. After all, until they are awarded a license, they technically do not work as a part of the cannabis industry. The credit union told these individuals that they had until August 19th to close their accounts – however this week the accounts of at least 10 members have been closed due to their seeking a marijuana business license.
Other banks and credit unions in the area have not yet seized any accounts, though they are making it clear that they are watching the licensing process and intend to discuss their policies with the customers before taking any necessary actions (such as closing accounts). It appears that Alaska USA has jumped the gun a little on this one – though they say that they were following the law when they sent out that letter.
While it is understandable, to a degree, that banks are afraid to work directly with cannabis businesses, it is unreasonable that persons working in the industry cannot hold personal accounts. It puts those working with marijuana in a situation where they not only have to work in a cash only business, but they now live a cash only life due simply to their chosen industry of employment – it’s definitely not the safest environment. This is one more example of why we desperately need banking reform laws that will allow banks to comply with both cannabusinesses and the federal government.