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Marijuana Retailers Say Bank Rules Threaten Safety, Hurt Businesses

Thursday, October 22, 2015


More than two dozen members of Oregon’s marijuana business community flew to Washington, D.C. this week to lobby lawmakers to ease restrictions on banks who wish to work with the marijuana industry. Industry insiders told GoLocal that the inability of marijuana businesses to use banks is causing serious problems for entrepreneurs. 

“We just want to be considered the same as any other business,” Meghan Walstatter, owner of Pure Green Dispensary in Portland, told GoLocal. “We want to have the same access to banking and the same options that any other business has.”

Currently, most banks refuse to serve marijuana businesses because they fear a federal crackdown could cause them to lose their FDIC protection, forcing them to close or exposing them to prosecution under federal anti-drug laws. Banks that do decide to do business with cannabis companies are subject to strict federal regulations that are designed to protect the financial system from dealing with criminals.

“This is one of the biggest problems we’re facing,” Skylar McKinley, deputy director of marijuana coordination for Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper told GoLocal. Colorado was one of the first states to legalize marijuana and has struggled to come up with a banking system to serve its newest industry.

“The regulations on marijuana businesses are probably stricter than regulations on any other industry,” McKinley said. “What we run into as a result is that the big banks like Chase are not doing this, because they do not want to risk their other holdings. Smaller banks that would be willing to take on the risk just don’t have the staff or the manpower needed to deal with those regulations.”

Hurting Businesses

Because of the regulations, many marijuana businesses are forced to operate as cash-only businesses, according to Karen Sprague, owner of the CO2 Company, which produces marijuana extracts for dispensaries in Oregon.

“We work with nearly two hundred licensed dispensaries across Oregon, and most of them pay in cash,” Sprague said. “It’s a bookkeeping nightmare. I’ve been a small business owner for more than 25 years, and I have never seen anything like it. We just want to be treated like everyone else.”

Walstatter said that the limit on banking restrictions are an inconvenience not just to business owners, but to customers as well. 

“It’s really hard to pay employees or pay bills without a bank account and to have to do that in cash,” Walstatter said. “Cash is becoming less and less used these days. Everything is plastic. We have to have an ATM in our store in case anyone doesn’t have any cash. It complicates things.”

Safety Concerns

Sprague said that on top of business concerns, the regulations effectively force dispensaries and other marijuana businesses to become cash-only businesses, which causes safety concerns. “Working with so much cash puts the safety of our sales and delivery staff at risk,” Sprague said.

McKinley agreed, though he noted that Colorado has yet to see any major violent crimes committed against marijuana businesses.

“This is a huge public safety issue,” McKinley said. “However you feel about marijuana legalization, it’s happening, and we have to work to make sure we don’t open these businesses up to violent crime, robberies, that kind of thing.”

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D)

Walstatter, owner of Pure Green, said that she feels less safe because she has to conduct all her business in cash. She said she has had to weigh her safety concerns against the negative consequences of bolstering security.

“It’s a tough balance,” Walstatter said. “We want to be safe and our employees to be safe, but there’s a trade-off. How many stores have to have an armed guard inside? I don’t want customers not to feel safe in my store.”

“This Will Have to Come from Congress”

McKinley, with Colorado’s marijuana coordination program, said that any solution on this issue will have to come from the federal government.

“We’ve gone through pretty much every solution that we as a state can figure out,” McKinley said, including attempts to open a credit union fully devoted to the marijuana industry, which were shut down by federal regulators. “I don’t see the Federal Reserve loosening up at all, so this will have to come from Congress.”

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D), who introduced a bill designed to change banking regulations along with Sen. Ron Wyden and Sen. Jeff Merkley, said he was glad to see Oregon’s marijuana community fighting for their rights.

“I’m thrilled to see the emerging Oregon cannabis industry engaging their political voice in DC,” said Congressman Blumenauer. “These are the people lawmakers need to hear from to understand first-hand the opportunity this industry represents in creating jobs and generating tax revenue. Most importantly, the cannabis industry will build a safer regulated system around marijuana than the status quo of prohibition and a resulting black market. We need the federal government to get out of the way and let these businesses grow – and compete – in accordance with state law. We can start by taxing them fairly and allowing them to have bank accounts like all other businesses.”


Related Slideshow: 20 Things You Need to Know About Buying Pot in Oregon

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Employers Still Can—And Will—Drug Test

Many of the state’s largest employers, including Fred Meyer, Intel, Bi-Mart and Dairy Queen, will still test for marijuana, despite its new legal status. Companies that employ heavy equipment operators are required to buy insurance, and typically require drug testing.

Often, even companies that employ workers who operate machinery while simultaneously employing workers who do not will test, as the company will receive a lower monthly deductible if they test all of their employees across the board.

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Only a Quarter-Ounce per Customer, Please

Dispensaries will only be allowed to sell a quarter-ounce of marijuana per customer, per day. Residents are allowed different amounts for travel and home storage.

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Child Proof Packaging

Dispensaries, in addition to their limits on sales per person, also must package their recreational marijuana in a particular way. It must be placed in an opaque bag that is smell and child-proof.

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Can I Grow Cannabis at My House?

Those with a green thumb will be permitted to grow their own marijuana for private consumption. They are only allowed four plants per person, however, and each must be obscured from public view.

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How Much Can I Have at My House?    

Residents will be allowed to keep plenty of dry marijuana (flowers or leaves that are ready to be smoked) in their home. They are allowed to store eight ounces, more than thirty times the purchasing limits, in their home.

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How Much Can I Travel With?

Traveling restrictions are stricter than regulations for home storage. Adults are able to travel with up to one ounce, or four times the purchase limit, on their person.

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Driving Under the Influence

Unlike the Washington law, which included attached regulations concerning driving impairment, Oregon’s law has more room for interpretation. 

Driving under the influence of marijuana is classified as a Class B Traffic Violation, which carries a presumptive fine of $260 and is not to exceed maximum fine of $2,000. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has been tasked with researching the subject of drugged driving and presenting its finding to the Oregon Legislative Assembly no later than January 2017.

After reviewing the OLCC report, the state legislative assembly will decide whether passing more extensive driving regulations will be necessary.

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No Smoking in Public

Yes, marijuana is legal. No, that does not mean you can light up in the middle of the street. Consumption is only allowed out of the public view.

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Where will the New Tax Money Go?

Where will the tax money go?

Measure 91, the ballot measure passed last year that legalized marijuana in Oregon, stipulates that the tax revenue collected from recreational sales will be divided up in the following ways:

40 percent- Common School Fund
20 percent- Mental Health Alcoholism and Drug Services
15 percent- Oregon State Police
10 percent- Counties for enforcement of the measure
10 percent- Cities for enforcement of the measure
5 percent- Oregon Health Authority for drug abuse prevention

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Where You Can Buy Marijuana

Already licensed medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed to sell recreationally beginning on October 1, although not every dispensary will sell recreationally.

For a full list of those that have been approved to sell to the public, click here.

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Not Everywhere

While marijuana is now legal for recreational use in the state of Oregon, some individual communities have passed laws banning recreational marijuana facilities from opening. Consumption will still be legal in these areas, but sales will not.

For a full list of cities that have passed these bans, click here.

Photo: Downtown Baker City; via Wikimedia Commons

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What to Do at a Dispensary

First time at a dispensary? No worries, said Meghan Walstatter, Owner of Pure Green Dispensary. Just ask plenty of questions to staff to ease all of your concerns. 

Photo: Pure Green Dispensary

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Budtenders-Bartenders for Weed

Have questions as you make your purchase? No problem, just ask your friendly budtender. The cannabis industry’s answer to bartenders, budtenders are knowledgeable about the different strains and types of marijuana and their effects and are ready and eager to help novice smokers.

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Cannabis Indica

Indica, along with its sister sativa, are one of the two main types of cannabis. Each has their own unique effects on its user. Indica strains are known for relieving physical pain and giving users a sleepy, lethargic feeling.

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Cannabis Sativa

Sativa strains are the counter to indica strains.They are known for as a more mental stimulation, giving users more creative and sometimes, more focus

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The best of both worlds. At least, that’s what hybrids claim to be. They combine the properties of an indica strain and a sativa strain, by allowing users to feel relaxed, but not sleepy.

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Bring Cash

While some dispensaries do accept credit card, most do not, according to Leah Maurer, Co-chair of Women’s Grow. Make sure to bring some cash if you plan to purchase some cannabis today.

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How to Store your Cannabis

Concerned about storing your new marijuana in your home around your family? Maurer said to store it as you would alcohol or prescription drugs, away from the reach of children and teenagers.

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Don’t Cross State Lines

It will still be illegal to transport marijuana across state lines. That restriction even includes those crossing the Columbia River into Washington, where marijuana is also legal. Marijuana is classified as a Scheduled I controlled substance, meaning that anyone transporting it across line is prosecutable by Federal agencies

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Make Sure to Talk to Your Kids

It's likely that children and young adults will see more cannabis, and cannabis consumption, now that recreational sales have begun. Maurer said to make sure you have an honest, frank conversation about the benefits and consequences of the substance.


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