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Pot Money Problems

Being at the cutting edge of marijuana legalization hasn’t been without its problems, both in Washington state and Colorado. But it appears a new problem will soon emerge – what to do with the money made selling pot legally in our state.

Although retail marijuana sales are soon to “go live,” ganja-preneurs can’t simply deposit their earnings into the local bank or credit union. Why? Because financial institutions that are federally regulated are prohibited from taking cash in from enterprises that they know to be operating illegally. And under federal law, marijuana is still illegal. Hence, the profits from marijuana sales are tainted and subject to seizure by the feds, followed immediately by a fine to the financial institution.

The bottom line for new marijuana-related businesses is that they can’t legally open a checking account, deposit money, or take out a business loan – at least not if the funds are tied to pot.

From the state’s point of view, all this is nuts. Without the tracking that comes from regular financial statements, sales volume and tax calculations may be thrown off. Business owners will have to resort to what would amount to money laundering – just like the illegal drug dealers do. But when Attorney General Eric Holder explained the feds “hands off” policy for growing and selling marijuana in Washington state, details about financials were left out. In fact, he may not be able to prevent banking regulators or the IRS from acting if they suspect “illegal” funds are being transferred.

The mess will need to be sorted out somehow. And quickly, if Washington is serious about legal marijuana in practice and not just on paper.

The Herald quoted one banker on the issue: "We're not telling them 'no.' We're not telling them 'yes'. We're telling them you have to make your own decision," he said. "As a result I think everybody is sitting back and waiting.”

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