Why Most Legal Pot Businesses Still Don’t Have a Bank Account

Phillip Smith | AlterNet | December 22, 2015

When Congress passed the omnibus spending bill Friday, it included several marijuana and drug policy reform provisions. The bill bars the Justice Department from spending funds to interfere in medical marijuana states or with industrial hemp cultivation pilot projects, and it ends a GOP-imposed ban on states and localities using federal funds for needle exchange programs.

But Congress’s embrace of drug reform was half-hearted. It failed to adopt an amendment that would allow Veteran Administration doctors to recommend medical marijuana to their patients, it continued to block Washington, DC, from taxing and regulating legal marijuana, and it failed to adopt a Senate-approved amendment that would have allowed banks to provide financial services to marijuana businesses.

That last item has huge business and public safety implications. According to industry-watching Arcview Market Research, the industry generated more than $1.5 billion in revenues in 2013. That’s a lot of cash being forced outside the formal financial sector.

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