|By Jeff Ostrowski, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
Like bankers in other states,
"It's a very murky area," said
Federal regulators say more than 100 banks and credit unions have begun to take deposits from marijuana businesses, but challenges remain. Those institutions -- the feds won't name them, and few banks are willing to volunteer what they consider sensitive information -- amount to fewer than 1 percent of all banks and credit unions.
Dispensary owners in
"The banks are very conservative, to say the least," said
Accused of caution, bankers plead guilty. The gap between states' rights and federal drug policy leaves many bankers wary that opening an account for a marijuana business will invite regulatory trouble. Federal officials can impose hefty fines on banks accused of laundering cash for drug dealers and, in some cases, pursue criminal charges.
"The risk is too high," said
For marijuana sellers and growers, that means no checks, no credit cards, just wads of cash.
"They have big safes full of cash," said
Marijuana seller Ramirez said he uses cash for many business expenses. For some routine bills, like cable and Internet service, he buys money orders. And he hires a security firm to protect his cash.
"There are different locations where we have a large amount of cash stored," Ramirez said. "We try to keep it pretty close to the vest."
Still, some banks are warming up to weed. The federal
"From our perspective, the guidance is having the intended effect," Director
Shasky Calvery said the feds have received more than 1,000 "suspicious activity reports" -- documents banks must file when they're dubious of the source of a customer's cash -- from 105 banks and credit unions accepting cash from marijuana dealers. That represents a significant investment of time in paperwork.
"If we have an inkling we're going to have to file a lot of suspicious activity reports, we wouldn't want that business as a client," Greene said. "We don't want to spend that kind of time, and we don't want to be in the cross-hairs of our regulators."
In the state of
Some are optimistic that the banking blockade will lift by the time marijuana becomes legal in
"It's still a cash business, but in terms of sitting on big piles of cash, that problem seems to be working itself out," said
Others say buttoned-down bankers are in no rush to embrace sellers of weed.
"As long as marijuana remains an illicit substance," the University of
Polls show Floridians overwhelmingly support the state's medical marijuana amendment.
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