Colorado’s cannabis industry has been forced to deal primarily in cash for years due to banking restrictions that pot advocates and banking lobbyists say put shops, growers and others at risk of theft. The industry is now cautiously optimistic this year that, with Democrats in power in Washington, its eight years of trying to lift those restrictions on banks and credit unions will pay off.
Because marijuana remains an illicit drug under federal law — and banking the proceeds of illicit drug sales is a federal crime — credit unions and banks are limited in their ability to work with cannabis companies, and take risks when doing so. As a result, the large and growing marijuana industry still remains cash-only, seven years after legalization in Colorado.
“We’ve got people who are still dealing in cash; we’ve got employees still being paid in cash. It’s just totally irresponsible,” said Chuck Smith, CEO of the cannabis company BellRock Brands and board president at Colorado Leads, a coalition of cannabis companies in the state.