Employees in cannabis dispensaries, growing operations, and manufacturing facilities are being put at risk by our banking laws, often needlessly.
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Currently, 25 states have some form of legal cannabis dispensaries. These businesses are operating legally under their state laws and licensing regulations. But they do not have access to traditional banking services, because federal law currently places banking institutions who handle cash from cannabis enterprises in danger of violating prohibitions on money-laundering.
So, what are these businesses to do? Operate in cash. It’s ultra risky, but they have no choice. Like jewelry stores, their products are valuable, so they already have drastic security measures in place. A change in banking wouldn’t affect that aspect of their daily routines. Video cameras, motion detectors, security guards, and stringent protocol are just part of life when a store is full of valuable merchandise.
But beyond that, they are forced to keep large amounts of untraceable cash on hand. That makes them a very desirable target to undesirables. Also, they have to transport large amounts of cash to their local revenue offices to pay their sales taxes, business taxes, payroll taxes, and the like.
Anyone who has watched any heist or kidnapping movie, or even Harry Potter, knows that one is most vulnerable when in transit. And these business owners have a perilous journey to complete at least once a quarter. It’s the stuff of movies like The Italian Job and Ocean’s Eleven: switching cars, checking for tails, varying the route, personnel, and times, and enlisting friends who can act as decoys.
All this for a legal business—when the clear and reasonable alternative would be for our government to make it possible for banks and other financial institutions to do business with these legitimate entrepreneurs.
The most urgent issue
In 2014, Aaron Smith, the executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, said, “Banking is the most urgent issue facing the legal cannabis industry today.” And this is still the case in the second half of 2016. In June a dispensary in Aurora, Colorado was robbed by two men armed with guns. The security guard, Travis Mason, was killed during the robbery. A family man and former Marine lost his life. They are still at large.
And just recently, an alert store manager in Seattle, Washington noticed that one of his stores was under attack. This one ended much better, with the store manager able to guide police to the perpetrators, who were apprehended with no harm to security guards or other employees.
But criminals are known for preferring the easiest, most lucrative scores; and drugs and cash are certainly some of the richest spoils. Together, they represent a bounty that most of the underworld just can’t pass up.
Capitalizing on the crisis and throwing dispensaries a lifeline are startups who act as intermediaries for banks made nervous by touching legal tender tainted by association with…a non-lethal medicinal herb that many doctors say is good for you. The New York Times reports that “Tokken and others [sic] start-ups, with names like Hypur and Kind Financial, have been putting together software that helps banks and dispensaries monitor and record transactions, with the long-term goal of moving transactions away from cash.” Notably, banks remain lawfully able to process all business transactions with companies selling products such as tobacco, alcohol, and oxycodone that are addictive and lethal. Such companies belong to powerful lobbies able to purchase the behavior of D.C. politicians and other bureaucrats. It’s time for major change.
How many people need to die before our lawmakers take action? These entrepreneurs and employees are conducting business in good faith that the American system will be fair and that they can earn their slice of the American Dream. Until our legislators make that possible, these honest folk will have to continue living in subterfuge with the constant worry that all their hopes and profits could disappear in the hands of thieves, or that they might be physically injured for their cash, or worse.