This was news to me before the ACLU of WA-WOLA trip to Spokane, which educated me about this practice, already described in an article from September 2014:
“Unlike many banks worried about the drug’s federally illegal status, Spokane’s Numerica Credit Union has offered accounts to marijuana growers and processors (retailers are not allowed). Numerica wouldn’t confirm the number of accounts it’s opened or the amount of its application or monthly fees, though a spokesperson said special fees were necessary for the ‘initial and ongoing due diligence’ on the accounts. Growers and retailers tell the Inlander the application fee alone is $1,000.”
The rationale I heard for “no-retailers” is that the member-owned credit union is less nervous about banking customers all of whose sales are traced to in-state purchasers. Washington state growers and processors cannot legally sell to any purchasers other than Washington state retailers or processors. That’s because Washington’s I-502 bans vertical integration. Retailers, under Washington law, can sell to tourists from out of state, so there is a danger, however slight, of leakage that the Holder memo warns of. So the safest way for a financial institution to dip a toe in the water is to serve non-vertically integrated entities early up the supply chain, I suppose — but that’s not official, just hearsay and maybe speculation. I also heard the credit union won’t accept any cannabis growers west of the Cascades. So it’s starting slowly.
To mix metaphors, the banking iceberg may melt slowly.
Link to article: http://www.inlander.com/spokane/more-money-more-problems/Content?oid=2358747. I have a call in to Numerica.
Update: Brett Stone of firstname.lastname@example.org sent me an article by Michael Muckian of the Credit Union Times indicating that several other financial institutions in WA are taking cannabis accounts: Link is at http://www.cutimes.com/2015/01/30/credit-unions-score-joint-biz-accounts. Another possible rationale for a limitation to growers suggested by the later article is this: There are more customers than the financial institutions can handle, so they are drawing arbitrary lines. I’m totally speculating. (Thanks, Brett.)
Meanwhile, in the CU Times article, Jenni Roberts of the O Bee Credit Union in Olympia attributed the ability or willingness of her Credit Union to take cannabis customers to the WA regulators, in part: “The WSLCB did a fascinating and fabulous job putting together guidelines on which we could piggyback our efforts.”
A clear rationale for the credit unions taking cannabis money is safety: “Serving I-502 members is as much a public safety issue as it is a financial one, Roberts said. The legalized industry has greater business acumen and financial services support at its disposal. Removing at least a share of the marijuana trade from the streets and putting it into a strict regulatory environment eliminates some the dangers formerly associated with industry, she added.”
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