No. We are not there yet. Are we making progress? Maybe.
The biggest impediment to explosive growth in the marijuana industry is lack of access to banking and robust financial services. Because banks face the risk of prosecution for money laundering and aiding and abetting in drug trafficking, most banks will not bank marijuana-related businesses (MRBs).
Why would any bank risk prosecution by banking MRBs? In 2014, following the issuance of the Cole Memorandum, the Justice Department and the Department of the Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued non-binding guidance on how financial institutions could serve MRBs. (For a more complete analysis of the laws related to banking MRBs see our blog post here.) The FinCEN guidelines called for fairly intensive, ongoing and expensive due diligence of any MRB customers, to the point where the risk/reward ratio for banks became inverted—high risk (jail, loss of banking license), low reward (low profit margins).
While most banks thought the risks far outweighed the benefits of having MRB customers, some financial institutions, mostly local banks and credit unions, saw in the FinCEN guidelines an opportunity and quietly began offering depositary services to MRBs. According to FinCEN, in 2017 there were over 300 financial institutions providing some form of banking services to MRBs. However, the vast majority of business in the industry is conducted in cash. For many businesses that touch the plant, this makes profit and loss statements questionable, taxing authorities nervous, and potential investors dubious about valuations.
Since the publication of the FinCEN statistics, much has happened to banking related to the marijuana industry—some of it good, some bad, and some ugly. Let’s take them in reverse order. Continue Reading Banking Marijuana Related Business: Are We There Yet?