Banking in Cannabis Industry Seen as “Trade Secret”

The marijuana legalization movement was accompanied by an explosion of helpful information about how to get your budding marijuana business off the ground.  How-to-grow handbooks, nationally-cooperative legal campaigns, and general guidelines for navigating the new laws in Colorado and Washington were easily found and vastly supported by members of the industry.  Now, that sense of camaraderie among ganjapreneurs is slipping away as secretive marijuana banking enters Colorado’s legalized playing field.

According to The Denver Post, whether or not a bank is cooperating with businesses in the cannabis industry has become a closely-guarded secret in Colorado. Though the federal government recently passed guidelines that allow for banks to do business with the cannabis industry, banks have so far been generally reluctant to publicly engage with the industry.  For this reason, pot shop owners don’t spread the word if they find a bank that will–either secretly or unknowingly–handle their money.

“It’s not surprising that information isn’t shared readily, given the history of the industry with banking,” said Taylor West, the deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association. West’s comment reflects on the many recorded occasions in which marijuana businesses have had their bank accounts closed on them shortly after the bank learned of the business’ true nature. “It’s unusual and cruelly ironic to have an industry that’s being denied basic banking services, then threatened with the loss of those services if they share that they have it,” West surmised.

According to one anonymous ganjapreneur, “They (the pot shops) all act like it’s a top-secret thing since they already have a banking relationship. They think if they give that data away freely, it might impact their ability to continue their banking relationship.”

As a result of all these complications, ownership of a bank account is greatly coveted by proprietors of marijuana retail establishments: not only does it simplify the sales process and increase store safety, but it also provides a leg up against other pot stores who don’t have access to bank services, and who must still rely on a purely cash-based economy.  And, in true entrepreneurial spirit, someone with a bank willing to serve them is going to strategically keep their mouth shut and maintain that economic advantage over the competition.

What might it take for banks and cannabusinesses to maintain public relations without fear of federal prosecution? Well, some members of the banking industry have accused the federal government’s current guidance of being merely a “yellow light” for marijuana banking. Don Childears, CEO and president of the Colorado Bankers Association, has further affirmed that “banks need permanence of law versus changeable guidance.” 

Whether or not this trend of erring on the side of caution is going to die off in the near future, or if this will actually remain an important banking issue until the federal government decides to reclassify (or declassify) marijuana on the national level, is completely up for speculation. As things stand now, however, being secretive about the relationship between a bank and marijuana business is a win/win situation for both parties.


Photo Credit: Jordan Wunderlich

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