AT A RECENT cannabis event I went to, the crowd was made up of cannabis professionals: dispensary owners and staff, growers, edible makers, processors, and wholesalers. Among the speakers was the head of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission’s (OLCC) cannabis program. During the Q&A, a grower brought up how that very week, his bank account had been shut down—the third time in the past year.
“The bank said it’s because I’m involved with cannabis,” he said, “and I wanted to ask you a question: I pay my taxes and fees to the OLCC in cash, which I made growing and selling cannabis. I take it the OLCC has a bank account. Correct?”
The OLCC official nodded yes.
“And may I ask where the OLCC banks?”
“US Bank,” said the official, with a slight smile.
“That’s interesting. That’s the same bank that just shut down my account, again. How is it that when I deposit my money, I’m a 'criminal with drug sale money,’ but when you do it, it’s 'important tax revenue’?”
The OLCC official did not have an answer, and if he had, it would have been drowned out by the roars of approval from the crowd.
After respect, a bank account is the hardest thing most canna industry folks have getting. It’s no exaggeration that most people I know who work in cannabis have had their accounts shut down two or three times. The current record that I’m aware of is a grower who’s had their account closed five times.
I asked my bank, Wells Fargo, if I could open an account under my business name, which has the word “Cannabis” in it. After establishing that I wasn’t growing, selling, or making cannabis edibles, she asked if I ever handled the jazz tobacco.
“It’s not going to get into the vaporizer by itself, so...” (Her stony face said I wasn’t making any friends.) “I often present artists with gift bags that have cannabis and cannabis products in them, yes.”
“Then no,” she answered. “If you are literally touching it, then we would have to shut your account down.” (And never mind touching it. A trade group I’m a member of—which never handles cannabis but has the word “cannabis” in their name—had its account shut down last week.)
I’ve talked with people who have paid absurd “special handling fees” to open and maintain a cannabis-related account. Others tell of sympathetic bankers taking deposits with a nod and a wink, helping the account holder maintain the account for as long as possible before the inevitable shutdown. Still others create fake business names as a front. No one is happy.
For its many, many, many flaws, Facebook is a great way to gauge hot-button topics, and in Facebook cannabis groups (at least the ones Zuckerberg hasn’t shut down yet), the subject is constantly mentioned. I recently saw a post from a grower furious at yet another shutdown. A regular contributor to these groups, well-intentioned but frequently wrong, replied, “If you have your recreational and medical license paperwork from the state, you can go to M Bank Credit Union, and they will open an account for you.”
No, you can’t. I know because I called M Bank.
“Nope. That’s bullshit,” said the high-ranking staff member I spoke with, who asked that I not use his name. “We did have accounts available for about six months last year, but we shut that down after the feds sent us a letter saying we were putting our FDIC [Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation] participation at risk by doing so.”
I asked if he saw that changing if and when the feds remove cannabis as a Schedule I drug.
“Honestly, no. The big banks don’t have any interest; they don’t need the money, and they view cannabis as they do pawn shops and strip clubs—high-cash intake businesses are often a cover for money laundering.”
I asked him what he would suggest. “Buy a damn good safe, and get used to paying in money orders from Fred Meyer.”
Fantastic. I think I need to go “handle some cannabis” in light of this stellar recommendation.