If the recent bipartisan support of a bill proposing to marry banks and legal marijuana businesses tells us anything, marijuana dispensaries might have a much easier time managing their finances.
That's because all of their business is done in cold, hard cash because banks are fearful of running afoul of federal laws.
The bill, named the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2015, was recently supported by four senators in Oregon and Colorado. It promises to prohibit the government from discouraging, penalizing or prosecuting banks should they provide services to marijuana businesses.
"By compelling Oregon business owners to operate on a cash-only basis, current federal laws are making marijuana businesses sitting ducks for violent crimes and perpetuating negative stereotypes," Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden said in a statement.
Even though legal marijuana is America's fastest growing industry, business is still done entirely on paper bills, further cementing the awkward relationship between legal marijuana businesses and the banking institutions that want to keep a conservative distance between them. Proponents of the bill reason that keeping the business cash-only makes parties more vulnerable to crime, especially when dealing with larger orders. Without the security blanket that banking institutions can give, people can assume your stacks are in the open and plenty ripe for robbing.
"The legal marijuana industry is worth nearly $3 billion nationwide. We shouldn't be forced to carry that around in duffel bags," said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association.
The banking question invariably ties into public opinions about marijuana legalization. Support has, according to Gallup, been rising the past decade, but not at the same clip as gay marriage. Approval or disapproval leans the way you'd expect—most liberals are totally into it, most conservatives totally not.
Federal and state governments frequently clash on their handling of marijuana laws. The federal government maintains marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance, "meaning it has a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use in treatment." As such, it leaves licensed dispensaries still in the crosshairs of federal prosecutors, even if they receive the goodwill of state law.
Banks have been wary of involving themselves with the marijuana business not because of its inherent associations with illegal drug trafficking, but also because it's been so unclear how hard the federal government will stamp its foot down, even where it's legalized. The government's drafted out some guidelines on how banks can deal with medical marijuana, but that doesn't grant them any protections if the business happens to say, end up being a hard drug front or get implicated in some grander crimes.
"As it stands, possession or distribution of marijuana violates federal law, and banks that provide support for those activities face the risk of prosecution and assorted sanctions," Frank Keating, president of the American Bankers Association, said in a statement last February.
Hopefully, this easing means that relationship could change and we can finally tuck those bills somewhere safer.