13 Investigates


Marijuana Money: No place to stash cannabis cash

Banking services lacking despite industry growth
Posted at 3:18 PM, Nov 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-21 16:56:18-05

With over 20,000 pot pros in Las Vegas this week for the MJBizCon it's clear cannabis is here to stay. 

But 13 Action News, once again, is looking into a major link that's still missing in the industry, putting a lot of people's safety at risk. 

In 2015, three years ago almost to the day, I reported about a number of robberies at dispensaries across the country. 

The security problem? No place to stash all that cannabis cash because the banks said "sorry we're closed" when it comes to marijuana money. So what's changed since my first report? 

"Nothing's changed. Nothing has. It's still basically the same situation as it was 3, 4 years ago," says Jim Lamb with the Las Vegas Medical Marijuana Association. 

The pros in the industry tell us the cannabis trade remains a cash-only business. 

"At the end of the day, you still can't make deposits." David Goldwater, who owns Inyo dispensary, told us about this problem in 2015. And now?

"Banks still don't make loans," Goldwater explains. "It's still impossible to pay your vendors. We still don't take credit cards. Everybody's still at risk."

When the first seeds of a marijuana industry were planted in Nevada, many banked on the idea that credit unions or thrifts would fill the void.

"We had some efforts at the state level to maybe come up with some creative solutions," says Goldwater. 

But as long as marijuana remains a schedule one drug under federal law, banks don't want to take any greenbacks made from the green leaf. 

In fact it's getting more difficult.

"Maybe there was some, 'don't ask, don't tell' activity around there," says Goldwater. "But in the past three years, I think the banking regulators have come in to their constituents in the banking industry and said, 'absolutely not.' And the banks have listened to their regulators for the most part and it's just no-go."

"It's at a point where we're going to be reaching a critical mass," says Lamb. 

Now that 33 states and our nation's capital have given cannabis the green light in some way, the security issue is a far bigger problem.

"And of course they're concerned with criminal activity, robberies, kidnappings etc. that could come along with that," says Lamb. 

Goldwater says the system as it stands is really frustrating and sends a conflicting message as cannabis businesses like his are paying taxes -- lots of taxes. Marijuana money that goes right into the bank without question.

"It's the same paper dollar that goes across our counter," explains Goldwater. "I give it to the Nevada Department of Taxation, they take it to Bank of America."

If you think that sounds like money laundering, you're not alone.

"And the taxes are eventually going to end up in a bank," Lamb confirms. "When that money goes through a government agency, it becomes clean."

A kind of hypocrisy that leaves industry leaders scratching their heads. 

"It seems strange. Doesn't make sense," says Goldwater. "I think we will look back on it and kind of shrug our shoulders and go, 'what were we doing?'" 

Well, stayed tuned. Because while we were working on this story several cannabis pros told us they're hearing about a possible solution from the federal government that may be coming soon after the first of the year. But it's still not clear if marijuana could be rescheduled or if another workaround is in the works. 

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