Oregon’s Department of Revenue office has a room behind bulletproof glass and surrounded by armed guards.
This is a new revelation for them, as the state’s recently enacted legal marijuana laws means cannabusinesses pay their taxes through huge sums of cash, passing it to people behind the bullet proof glass. These arrangements are necessary because marijuana businesses are barred from using the traditional banking system due to the illegality of cannabis under federal law.
However, the number of banks willing to handle money that is process through cannabis based businesses has gone up from 51 in March 2014 to 301 last month.
Three years after Washington legalized marijuana, a majority of the businesses are paying their tax electronically, meaning that many of them have found access to bank accounts.
“People don’t call me anymore and say, ‘I’m opening a new business and I can’t find a bank account,'” said Robert McVay, a Seattle marijuana business attorney.
Although things are getting better, marijuana is still very much a cash business. The legal states with recreational sales have businesses that tend to keep ATMs on site to make sure people can purchase with cash.
The treasury department has given banks permission to do business with marijuana entities under certain conditions, particularly making sure the customers are complying with regulations.
Under the guidance, banks must review state license applications for marijuana customers, request information about the business, develop an understanding of the types of products to be sold and monitor publicly available sources for any negative information about the business.
Two credit unions originally helped out businesses in Washington’s legal marijuana industry. Salal based in Seattle and Numerica based in Spokane. Now there are many others and even some big banks.
In December 2015, only 10% of sales in dispensaries in Washington were in cash. There is no sign that the cash counters and security will be going away any time soon though.
In Oregon, they’ve collected more tax in the first two months of the year – Almost $7 million, than they expected to receive all year. Half of that was paid in cash. Oregon plans to increase the site in its Department of Revenue to make up for this, while Washington is moving away from that idea.
Language tucked into a budget deal Washington lawmakers reached last month allows the liquor board to require tax payments in electronic form, though it’s unclear how soon it might do that.
Calling it a “public safety concern,” board spokesman Brian Smith said the agency wants to reduce the amount of cash coming through the lobby.