Orange County Marijuana Lawyers: Dispensaries Frozen Out by Bankers

May 11, 2012
By Cannabis Law Group on May 11, 2012 1:59 PM |

Orange County marijuana lawyers know there are many ways that marijuana collectives have come under fire in recent months. shakinghands.jpg

Namely, of course, there has been the federal crackdown, and countless municipalities have been enacting bans or moratoriums so as not to draw the ire of the feds.

Now, there may be a new enemy of Orange County medical marijuana: banks.

If a recent report in the Seattle Times in Washington is any indication, this is expected to be a growing problem.

The example given in the story is of a cooperative that is well established in the industry, has three store front locations and a loyal base of customers. The problems is that in the last two years since it opened, it hasn't had regular access to a bank.

In fact, it has ping-ponged from one bank to the next - five in all. Another four outright rejected the company's business. In one instance, a bank simply closed the company's account without notice. What was worse, they didn't even tell the business owners about it - they simply froze the accounts and no one was aware of a problem until checks started bouncing.

For a lot of dispensaries, these types of conundrums may be universal. When collectives and dispensaries can't find a bank, they end up operating mostly in cash. And when that happens, not only does it make tax preparation and payroll a huge headache, the marijuana dispensaries become a target for robbery and theft.

Not only that, but it becomes a problem for patients, who are forced to pay for their medicine in cash. Often, ATMs are placed in the lobby of these sites.

To try to circumvent some of these problems, some dispensaries have tried the tack of changing their names to something that is a little more euphemistic - like a healing center - when they're trying to open a bank account.

Part of the problem is that in the same way that the federal government has warned cities and counties against any activity which would appear to sanction any action which would appear to violate federal law, banks have also been instructed that handling receipts from the sale of marijuana could violate laws on money-laundering.

The National Cannabis Industry Association says it's likely that about half of all dispensaries across the country don't have a bank account. He calls this a threat to the industry, and says some groups are pushing Congress to alter the IRS code and banking law so that the legitimacy of the industry - estimated at nearly $2 billion - will be recognized.

Our Orange County medical marijuana lawyers understand that this may be one way the movement could gain legal sanctuary, so we very much support these efforts.

When reporters pressed the banks for comment, only one responded, saying that the industry is considered a risk and an uncertainty, and that it was not considered in the best interest of the bank to enter into a business contract with medical marijuana businesses.

Federal law doesn't expressly prohibit banks from working with Orange County marijuana dispensaries and collectives, and the attorney general told Congress late last year that his office wouldn't make it a top priority to prosecute banks who did so.

But then again, we've heard that promise before.

The CANNABIS LAW GROUP offers experienced and aggressive representation to the medical marijuana industry in Southern California-- including growers, dispensaries and collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call 714-937-2050 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
Medical-marijuana dispensaries run into trouble at the bank, By Jonathan Martin, Seattle Times

More Blog Entries:
Orange County Marijuana Lawyers Cheer Push for AB2312, April 21, 2012, Orange County Marijuana Lawyer Blog