Colorado marijuana businesses may soon have a place to put the considerable money they’re making, as the state legislature is poised to pass a bill allowing them to set up financial co-ops that would be similar to credit unions.
Most pot retailers, landlords for grow operations and hemp farmers have found it impossible to get traditional banking services because cannabis is still illegal under federal laws. Although the U.S. Justice Department has issued guidelines to allow banks to deal with marijuana businesses, most bankers still see it as too risky.
Mortgages on pot warehouses, for example, would be at risk if federal agents seized property tied to the industry.
The result is that many marijuana operators deal only in cash — lots of it — a situation that many lawmakers have said poses a risk to public safety.
The financial co-op bill would allow various marijuana businesses to pool their money and gain access to the usual tools of banking, like checking accounts, loans and the ability to process credit card payments.
The pot bank would be the first of its kind in the world.
But even if the bill passes on Wednesday — the last day of Colorado’s legislative session — the Federal Reserve Bank, which is bound by the same federal laws that deem pot to be illegal, must first approve the co-ops it authorizes.
Legislators concede that the bill is imperfect because of the federal conflicts, but say it’s a start.
“I’ve steadfastly maintained that the solution does not lie in this building, but in Washington,” sponsor Rep. Pat Steadman, a Democrat, told the Denver Post. “This is a bill we know is imperfect, but it’s something we’re trying to do to force a dialogue on the issue. The status quo for access to financial services is unacceptable.”
Some have complained, however, that the 45-page bill is being rushed through the process in order to pass before the session-ending deadline at midnight Wednesday.
“Twenty-four hours from now, we’re done and it’s imprudent to push through a 45-page bill on an important topic that takes on banking laws, commerce and a number of other critical issues,” Republican Rep. Owen Hill is quoted as saying in the Post. “It’s simply too quick.”
If the bill passes, Gov. John Hickenlooper is expected to sign it into law.
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