If you ask any security consultant about one of the biggest physical security risks a business can take, high up on the list would be having huge piles of cash lying around. If you ask a business consultant what one of a small business' biggest commercial risks might be, they would likely tell you that it's not being able to get loans, financing, or even standard banking services to run their operations and collect customer payments.
Yet even as a legal, regulated cannabis industry is growing wildly across the country -- including now here in New York, America's financial capital -- we still saddle marijuana merchants with both of these issues simultaneously by dint of the difficulty in transacting with established banks.
This is all tangled with the fact that, while the majority of states now allow the sale of medical marijuana and more than a dozen states have made the recreational market legal, the drug remains a federally controlled substance. That can and should change, either through regulatory or congressional action, but in the meantime, Congress should move to clear this pointless obstacle by more explicitly letting banks do businesses with cannabis producers and retailers.
There's proposed legislation to accomplish this in the form of the SAFE Banking Act. As with much else in Washington, the bill is getting bogged down as everyone wants to stick something on. While expungement of prior marijuana offenses, for example, is a laudable goal, it is a separate question and the squabbling over the right way to implement it shouldn't derail the simple objective of letting cannabis businesses process payments and open bank accounts in a sector that's already worth billions.
With every week of inaction, the upshot is that the very large businesses that can afford to pay for fancy security and complex regulatory compliance keep gaining ground over the small businesses that could keep industry profits local and trickling into communities most affected by marijuana's criminalization. And dispensaries remain fat targets for criminals.
Pass the bill.