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Bags Stuffed With Cash Add To Pressure For Cannabis Banking Law

Convenience isn’t the only problem, it’s dangerous

Senator Jeff Merkley once shadowed a cannabis grower and dispenser as he tried to pay his state taxes. He stuffed a backpack with $70,000 in $20 bills and drove 50 miles — unguarded — with the bulging bag in the back seat. Once he arrived at the Oregon Department of Revenue, he went through multiple rounds of security to deposit his satchel in a room packed with guards looking after the millions of dollars pouring in from other cannabis companies.

Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, likes to recount the story to show the lunacy of the federal government’s treatment of the cannabis industry. Legal sales exceeded $10 billion in 2018, the annual Marijuana Business Factbook reported, and are expected to hit $80 billion by 2030, according to research firm Cowen Inc. Yet the substance remains illegal on a national level, so banks must forego a lucrative revenue stream — or risk prosecution or the loss of their charter.

Operating a business in cash isn’t just inconvenient. It also leaves thousands of growers, retailers and employees vulnerable to crime and handicaps growing businesses. Banks can’t accept cash deposits, process credit-card payments, clear checks, make loans or underwrite stocks and bonds, even though tax authorities have figured out workarounds. Like Oregon, the Internal Revenue Service has built “cash rooms” to receive federal taxes paid by marijuana companies, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in April.


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