Deal offers more banking services for California pot firms

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FILE - In this June 27, 2017, file photo, bundles of $20 bills are placed on a table as Jerred Kiloh, owner of the Higher Path medical marijuana dispensary, prepares a trip to Los Angeles City Hall to pay his monthly tax payment in cash in Los Angeles. The leading cannabis industry group in California announced Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, it had reached an agreement with a state credit union that will provide access to checking and other banking services for marijuana companies, ending what had been a longstanding obstacle for many businesses. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

LOS ANGELES – A California cannabis industry group announced Tuesday that it reached an agreement with a state credit union that will provide checking, wire transfers and other banking services for more marijuana companies, helping ease what has been an obstacle for many businesses.

Most Americans live in states where cannabis is legally available in some form, and broad legal marijuana sales began in California in 2018. But there’s been a problem when it comes to banks: Many don't want anything to do with money from the cannabis industry for fear it could expose them to legal trouble from the federal government, which still considers marijuana illegal.

As a result, many marijuana companies in California’s multibillion-dollar market have been left to do business largely in cash, making them appealing targets for crime.

Under the partnership, the California Cannabis Industry Association said its members will gain access to banking services through the California-based North Bay Credit Union.

“Since California legalized cannabis, operators have faced significant struggles with banking and payment services, given the federal government’s continued ban on cannabis products,” the group said in a statement. The agreement is intended “to alleviate the banking obstacles that cannabis operators face, so they can focus on their core business.”

Industry experts say the number of state financial institutions willing to handle cannabis-linked funds is gradually growing, and a state law enacted last year was designed to provide legal safeguards for banks and credit unions engaging with marijuana companies.

The credit union said on its website that it has been offering banking services to the cannabis industry since 2017. Medicinal cannabis sales have been legal in California for over two decades.

Jerred Kiloh, who heads the Los Angeles-based United Cannabis Business Association, said the agreement represents another encouraging step as more financial institutions open their doors to the industry.