You may not have noticed on Friday, June 6, 2014, but Colorado took another big step towards legitimizing the marijuana industry; Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law a bill that will give cash-only cannabis businesses access to basic banking services through the creation of non-insured cooperatives. This may sound like a mundane story, but in reality this is a big deal for the hundreds of herbal entrepreneurs across the state of Colorado.
There are a lot of dangers and pitfalls in the marijuana industry right now. Whether it’s DEA raids or robberies committed by common criminals, it is hard for cannabis business owners to get equal protection under the law. One of the biggest difficulties the industry has faced is what to with all the money they make.
While the marijuana trade has been very profitable, most banks will not allow any marijuana-related business to open a bank account, take out a loan or conduct any other run-of-the-mill banking service. Without banks to safely store all of their cash, many marijuana businesses have become targets for criminals.
Mike Elliot, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, went on the record with Ivan Moreno of the Associated Press on June 6 to express his frustration regarding the recent robbery of his organization. According to Elliot, the cash only model has added problems for the business and its employees. “We don’t a need a vault. What we need is checking,” he said. “We’re looking for a way to take cash out of the businesses.”
While the bill is a historic step for the cannabis industry, the bill still needs to be approved independently by the Federal Reserve before they can gain access to financial services. This may prove difficult as the bill would create uninsured cooperatives, and the Fed is not known for taking too many risks.
Some may see this bill as a symbolic gesture, but bill sponsor Sen. Pat Steadman remains hopeful and says that it’s now up to federal government to move things along. “At minimum, it’s a ‘send a message’ bill. Hopefully, it becomes a leverage point to get some attention and get some action on the part of the federal government,” he said. “Because they hold the keys on this one. We can’t solve this problem at the statehouse in Denver. It’s going to require action and participation on the part of federal officials and hopefully this gets us there.”
This bill may do everything that it set out to do, but it is still an important step in the full legalization process. The more movement marijuana makes towards legitimizing itself, the better. At the moment, Colorado has done all it can do; now, it is up to the federal government. If the federal government has a vested interest in maintaining public safety, it behooves them to allow this bill to move forward because, like it or not, the marijuana industry is here to stay.