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Saturday, December 21, 2013

A State-Run Marijuana Bank Would Solve Two Problems at Once

Posted by on Sat, Dec 21, 2013 at 3:37 PM

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  • GREG STUMP

State senator Bob Hasegawa (D-11) has been championing a state-run bank for years, based on a successful state bank in North Dakota, and if you've been wondering what he's been smoking in pursuit of this seemingly quixotic effort, well, he may have just answered your question. The latest iteration of Hasegawa's bill attempts to recast his proposed state bank as "the sole depository for in-state marijuana producers, processers, and retailers."

It's a clever hack on top of Hasegawa's previous state bank proposal that provides all the benefits of helping state government while addressing a huge unmet need created by the passage of Initiative 502: the lack of access to legal banking services by Washington State's large and growing legal marijuana industry.

"I run a legitimate business that is compliant with state law," says Alex Cooley, vice president of Solstice, a marijuana grower. "Having full banking services would be of massive value."

Banks are reluctant to provide services to state-sanctioned marijuana businesses out of concern of running afoul of federal money-laundering laws—although there is no history of the Feds prosecuting banks for serving medical marijuana businesses. And some in the marijuana industry are reluctant to deposit large sums in banks out of fear of leaving their assets open to federal seizure.

The result is a largely cash-based business in a state industry that is projected to soon generate more than $2 billion of legal revenue a year. It's not even clear that banks will accept deposits from the state of the $533 million a year in marijuana tax revenue Washington is expected to clear by 2015.

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