Chart of the Week: The Challenging Banking Climate for Marijuana Businesses

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By Jennifer Mann

The difficulties dispensaries and recreational cannabis stores face on the banking front are well documented.

Although the federal government issued guidance early last year on how banks can work with the industry, the vast majority of financial institutions still keep marijuana companies at arm’s length.

Just 105 banks and credit unions service companies that sell cannabis, an official with the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) said in a recent speech.

While that number is higher than many industry insiders expected, it’s still miniscule considering there are more than 13,000 such institutions – which operate more than 100,000 branches – in the country, according to federal data.

Between Feb. 14 and Aug. 8 of 2014, FinCEN received more than 1,000 suspicious activity reports (SARs) from banks in the U.S. regarding activity with the legal marijuana industry. Of those, 123 indicated that one of the eight guidelines issued by FinCEN had not been followed.

Additionally, 475 SARs involved banks that terminated relationships with marijuana-related businesses.

But there’s good news.

The situation is starting to improve, as more banks are deciding to work with the industry – and even talk about it publicly.

And some of the nation’s more mature and advanced cannabis states have better banking access.

Eight of the 46 institutions represented by the Colorado Bankers Association, for example, reported doing business with the marijuana industry – or about 17%. A credit union specifically for cannabis businesses is also in the works in Colorado.

Clarification: An earlier version of this chart gave the incorrect impression that there are 100,000-plus banks and credit unions in the U.S. That figure reflects the number of branches of banks and credit unions.