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Pot banking problems in Colorado being eyed here

Some in the Pennsylvania financial industry are keeping an eye on how banks are handling issues with the now-legal marijuana business in Colorado, but they are far from taking any stance on what they would do if marijuana suddenly became legal here.

Already, however, questions that banks in Colorado are dealing with both in logistics and morality are quietly being asked in Pennsylvania.

“There will be banks that will assess how the community will perceive them,” said Tim Arthun, director of government relations for the Pennsylvania Association of Community Bankers. “There will be banks that say, ‘Even if it’s legal, it’s not for us.’ They won’t want people thinking they’re possibly condoning questionable activity.”

Billion-dollar industry

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In Colorado, most banks and credit unions have said they can’t or won’t lend to or accept deposits from marijuana-related businesses. The new industry is expected to raise about $133.6 million in state tax, according to the governor’s office in Colorado, during this first year of sales that are expected to be around $1 billion.

Washington state also legalized marijuana use and sale in 2012, though it hasn’t allowed businesses to open yet.

Even though Colorado legalized marijuana sales in 2012 and the U.S. Department of the Treasury released guidelines in February for how banks can handle marijuana businesses, federal marijuana laws remain a potential land mine, banks say.

Don Childears, president and CEO of the Colorado Bankers Association, said the Treasury guidance doesn’t change any laws, leaving the situation open to interpretation for a new administration in less than three years.

“After a series of red lights, we expected this guidance to be a yellow one,” he said in a statement about the federal guidance. “This isn’t close to that. At best, this amounts to ‘serve these customers at your own risk’ and it emphasizes all of the risks. This light is red.”

State Senate bill

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Currently, 20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. In Pennsylvania, a Senate bill legalizing medical marijuana has received recent bipartisan support.

Michael Sadowski

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