California hopes to take the lead in giving the cannabis industry access to banking services in 2017, with a new working group focused on finding a solution to conflicts between state and federal laws that force marijuana businesses to operate largely in cash.
The Golden State has a year to come up with a plan. That’s when California’s first recreational marijuana shops are expected to open under voter-approved Proposition 64, which legalized marijuana for adults 21 and over.
“We need quick action and practical solutions,” State Treasurer John Chiang, who formed the Cannabis Banking Working Group, said on a call with reporters in December. “California is willing to assume a leadership role nationally to effectively achieve this goal.”
Federal law still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I narcotic on par with heroin. That means major banks and credit card companies won’t do business with growers and dispensaries out of fear they’ll be penalized for money laundering.
That changed little even after U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole in 2013 issued his now-famous “Cole memo,” which gave banks guidance on how to service marijuana businesses without breaking any federal laws.