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Wash. CU sets standards for serving marijuana businesses
SPOKANE, Wash. (5/9/14)--A Spokane Valley, Wash.-based credit union has emerged as the first financial institution in the U.S. to welcome businesses from the marijuana industry to open accounts at their branches--a move meant to bolster public safety.

While retailers, or the dispensaries that sell marijuana directly to consumers, aren't eligible, businesses that grow or process pot can manage their finances at Numerica CU, with $1.3 billion in assets, as of last week.

Recreational marijuana was approved by voters in Washington in November 2012. Marijuana also became legal in Colorado on Jan. 1 of this year. (See related story: League neutral on Colo.'s 'cannabis credit co-ops.')

"These businesses are cash-run, which is not good for a community," Kelli Hawkins, Numerica communications manager, told News Now. "It invites crime, and so we think it's the right thing to do. It's in the best interest of our members and our communities."

Numerica leaders said earlier this year that they were preparing to allow all marijuana businesses, including retailers, to bank at their branches. However, guidelines publicized by the U.S. Justice Department have kept them from moving forward with that plan.

The guidelines place massive regulatory burdens on financial institutions that elect to accept deposits from pot-retailers, such as requiring the institutions to monitor the retail stores so that marijuana isn't transferred to states where it's still illegal.

In a May 7 article in The Spokesman- Review, Numerica representatives said they felt they could not fully control such circumstances in order to comply with the federal guidelines.

The processors and growers that can open accounts at Numerica, meanwhile, still face fairly strict rules:
  • Each marijuana business bank account will be limited to $5 million in total deposits;
     
  • No debit or credit cards can be issued for the accounts;
     
  • All deposits must be made in person, with no night deposits permitted; and
     
  • Account holders won't be allowed to conduct shared-network banking, a unique service of the credit union industry where members can access their accounts at other credit unions in a shared-branch system, among other restrictions.
A spokesperson for the Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA), which represents Washington-based credit unions, told News Now the association supports Numerica's decision, and that it appears to be a "well-thought-out policy decision" based on what federal guidance allows the institution to do.

Lynn Heider, NWCUA vice president of public relations, said the association would still like to see clearer direction from Congress about the role of financial institutions in this industry.

"We would like to see an act of Congress to put more structure and definition around how financial institutions can bank these legal businesses," Heider said Thursday.  

"For credit unions, there is too much of a gray area."

Numerica worked extensively with representatives of the state and federal liquor control boards to learn about the industry and craft the appropriate, and legal, menu of services.

Businesses who qualify only will be able to deposit funds, view their accounts online, write checks, send wire transfers and use automated clearing house services.

To qualify for Numerica's services, a business must have received a license to operate from the state of Washington, from the municipality where they run their business, and they must reside in a city where the credit union operates one of its 17 branches.

Hawkins told News Now that only two businesses who have applied have qualified so far, but neither have finished applications to open accounts.


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