Anonymous asked Sarah Lee Gossett Parrish PLLC , 10/24/2018 ( 1 comment )

What do you think about Oklahoma banking officials urging financial institutions to stay clear of the medical marijuana industry? Will this kill its development?

Short Answer: I'm not surprised that Oklahoma banking officials have urged financial institutions to stay clear of the medical marijuana industry; however, in my opinion, this will not kill its development.

The caution given by Oklahoma banking officials is not surprising given the reality that marijuana continues to be a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act, making it illegal under federal law. While the FinCEN Memo of February 14, 2014, remains in place (asserting the decision about banking cannabis customers is up to each particular bank's discretion and should be based on "through customer due diligence"), obviously some level of risk to federally regulated banks that provide services to marijuana-related businesses will remain until Congress passes safe harbor legislation to protect all who are involved in the industry or removes marijuana's Schedule I designation and legalizes (or at least decriminalizes) its use.

In my opinion, the caution given by Oklahoma banking officials is well intentioned and well taken. However, I also believe such caution will not kill the development of Oklahoma's new medical marijuana industry. Banking alternatives are now available with private credit unions which are entering the cannabis banking markets in Oklahoma and other states that have legalized its use, and a few regional banks are also accepting cannabis businesses as customers. These financial institutions no doubt comply fully with the due diligence actions recommended in the FenCEN memo and likely maintain close contact with federal regulators to ensure that all are on the same page so that no issues will arise. 

Additionally, the patients who obtain medical marijuana prescriptions will benefit exponentially from its medicinal properties, and the businesses that provide medicinal marijuana will have a high demand for it. This economic principle will motive businesses to find alternative solutions to the current banking issues.

Finally, it has been my experience in working with clients who are members of Oklahoma's medical marijuana business community, that this community is committed to, and passionate about, the remarkable impact medicinal cannabis will have on the quality of life for Oklahoma patients who need this medicine. The opportunities that are available in this new industry are truly exciting for all involved. Thus, in my opinion, whether banking services are immediately available presents an issue but not an insurmountable obstacle to Oklahoma's medical marijuana industry.