Pubdate: Thu, 29 Dec 2016
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2016 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Jim Gonzalez


Despite Proposition 64's clear mandate to end adult cannabis prohibition
in California, a significant hurdle remains: how to legalize banking
services for the newly legalized industry.

Cannabis is a multibillion-dollar cash-only business in our state, which
invites money laundering, tax evasion and armed robberies.

Federal rules prohibit banks and credit unions from extending banking
services to the cannabis businesses, despite legal recognition under
California law.

California Treasurer John Chiang is taking steps forward towards resolving
this cannabis banking dilemma, for which he should be commended.

In a letter of congratulations to President-elect Donald Trump, Chiang
urged Trump to provide guidance to California regarding the direction the
federal government will take regarding the cannabis industry in California
and other states that have legalized medical and recreational use of

Chiang also has convened the Cannabis Banking Working Group, made up of
experts from the industry, banker, state taxation agencies, regulators and
law enforcement to address what he called "the dangerous, disruptive
disconnect between state law and federal law."

Board of Equalization Chairwoman Fiona Ma also has stepped forward.
Calling the cannabis industry the "largest shadow economy in California,"
Ma rightly points out that granting it banking access "would facilitate
compliance and bring millions of dollars into our economy."

Resolving the banking conundrum could significantly reduce the presence of
cash in California's legal cannabis industry, and facilitate the
requirement, written into the law, that products be tracked from
cultivation to sale.

Here's my recommendation: Chiang should seek legislation to establish a
new account. Call it the Treasurer's Cannabis Revenue Account. It would
become the depository for the proceeds from legal sales of cannabis.

Proceeds from sales could be deposited in individual entrepreneurs'
accounts, registered with the treasurer. Deposits, either by check or
cash, could be made via secure bank cards at state facilities.

From the Treasurer's Cannabis Revenue Account, the state would deduct
sales and use taxes, and income and corporate taxes. The remaining money
would belong to the individual business people who participate.

Businesses could draw on surplus revenues from their individual accounts
each month, and be issued a state check or receive electronic funds
transferred by the state of California.

To further reduce the presence of cash, purchases and sales of cannabis
could be conducted using a Treasurer's Cannabis Revenue Account
transaction card, similar to an ATM card, which could be made available to
customers as well as businesses.

Such a proposal is similar to Ohio's "closed loop" system for the cannabis
industry, authorized as a part of Ohio's medical marijuana law, HB 523.

If fully implemented by September 2018, Ohio's Department of Commerce
would allow patients and registered caregivers to put funds into special
accounts at state agencies or state-run stores, and in turn use money from
these accounts to purchase medical marijuana.

As provided in Ohio's HB 523, the closed loop may include record keeping
and accounting that identify all parties to cannabis transactions.

The goal of the Ohio legislation included preventing revenue from flowing
to criminal enterprises, limiting diversion of marijuana projects out of
state, and barring distribution to minors.

None of this will be easy. Any bold thinking will be subject to attack by
those who are unalterably opposed to legal cannabis. But with the
leadership of the treasurer's office, California's cash crop could become
part of the financial mainstream.

Jim Gonzalez is a former San Francisco supervisor who has worked on
marijuana legalization efforts and represented the Coalition for Cannabis
Policy Reform. He can be reached at  ---
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