There are articles and news reports across the internet that recognize the money making potential in the legal cannabis industry. In the US, in states that have legalized marijuana in some form, people have invested heavily in the industry banking on big returns. People working in the trenches of the industry are starting to see early returns on their investments and they have the cash to prove it. While it is good to be rolling in dough, it is not ideal, and leads to some serious problems.
Most banks, large and small are not willing to extend their services to cannabis related businesses because of the plants status with the US government. Cannabis is listed as a Schedule 1 controlled substance in the Controlled Substance Act. As long as this federal law lists the drug as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, the financial industry will face significant challenges all the way from banking to merchant services by risking running afoul of federal law if they work with weed related businesses. The problem is not limited to the United States, it is impacting Canada as the entire country has legalized the use and sale of the drug.
Even though Canada legalized recreational marijuana and opened the door to a flurry of business activity, big banks in the United States and Canada are keeping the industry at arm’s length because of pot’s muddy legal picture in the United States.
Cannabis, while legal for recreational use in nine US states, and Washington D.C., remains illegal under US federal law. American banks have largely stayed away from providing services to the industry because federal regulations prohibit lenders from working with any business that deals in illegal drugs. Lenders could face money laundering charges in the United States if they do.
But banks could be missing out on a bonanza. The marijuana industry is expected to grow substantially in the next five years, with sales in the United States expected to hit $23.4 billion by 2022, according to cannabis market research group Arcview. Canadian sales are expected to hit $5.5 billion.
Still, most of the largest banks remain on the sidelines for now — even in Canada, where banks have to worry about potential compliance issues abroad. The American Bankers Association, the US industry’s powerful lobby, has said it wants Congress to resolve the conflict between federal and state laws so banks aren’t stuck in the middle, though it doesn’t have a position on legalization itself. Right now, banks that do decide to take a chance and quietly work with marijuana businesses are expected to file suspicious activity reports for every transaction related to those accounts — a huge and potentially expensive logistical headache. TD Bank (TD), the Royal Bank of Canada and Bank of Montreal (BMO), all of which have an international presence, declined to comment for this story.
As long as cannabis is considered a Schedule 1 controlled substance there will be an inherent risk to working in the cannabis industry. Not only are there legal risks, but because normal financial services are not available, you’ll be dealing in cash which posses it’s own set of problems. Your business could be targeted for theft and robbery, which may come with property damage and more. If you are considering or already involved in a cannabis related business, you need a risk management strategy. Reach out to S2S Insurance Specialists and talk with Eric Rahn about your business and risk management strategies.