The rapidly expanding legal marijuana industry enters a new year facing a multibillion-dollar question: What to do with all the millions in cash it collects each week?, Stateline reports. Nearly all banks refuse to take money from marijuana sales or offer basic checking or credit card services to the industry for fear they'll be shut down by federal authorities, for whom marijuana remains an illegal narcotic. The banks won't do business with growers, processors, retail shops and medical dispensaries, nor with their employees and contractors. “It's the biggest problem we have,” said Taylor West of the National Cannabis Industry Association, many of whose 800 members are awash in $5, $10 and $20 bills and change and no bank to put them in.
The abundance of cash makes the 2,000 retail shops and medical dispensaries tantalizing targets for criminals. Without bank accounts, legal marijuana businesses have a hard time paying employees and vendors. Relying solely on cash leads to a lack of transparency in accounting and auditing, and it complicates paying the taxes states impose on cannabis. States had hoped rules issued last year by the U.S. Treasury Department would reassure banks that they can do business with the industry. The Justice Department directed U.S. attorneys not to pursue banks as long as they adhere to guidelines. That didn't allay bankers' fears, however.