Massachusetts banks increasingly eyeing high-growth marijuana industry

While some banks still shy away from cannabis, others increasingly are embracing the industry, as evidenced by a couple of recent examples in Massachusetts’ booming marijuana market.

Needham Bank recently agreed to acquire the cannabis banking operations of Eastern Bank with plans to open a branch focused on marijuana businesses.

Dedham Savings Bank is following suit, saying it has launched a cannabis banking business in acknowledgment of the industry’s rapid growth and the need to access financial resources and services, according to Banker & Tradesman.

About a dozen Massachusetts banks and credit unions now offer financial services to cannabis businesses, the real estate and finance publication reported.

Needham Bank CEO Joe Campanelli recently told American Banker that while most banks and credit unions see marijuana as a high risk, his view is that working with the industry actually helps mitigate risks by establishing audit trails for the transactions.

Eastern inherited a cannabis banking operation as part of a merger with Century Bank but said it didn’t want to stay in the business because of the “special handling required.”

Nationally, the number of financial institutions actively providing services to state-legal marijuana businesses is inching up.

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The number of banks and credit unions offering such services totaled 755 as of Sept. 30, 2021, which was up slightly over pre-pandemic levels, according to the most recent U.S. government data.

More than 20 North American cannabis CEOs are in Washington DC this week, partly to urge key congressional members to pass legislation that would enable financial institutions to serve cannabis-related businesses without fear of federal punishment.