MILL PLAIN, Wash. – After years spent fighting to make the sale of marijuana legal, there’s one last obstacle – what to do with the money.
Now that Washington has legalized the sale of pot, the state is in the process of setting up a distribution system. Roughly 330 retail outlets will be licensed and open for business early next year.
There’s one problem, however.
Though the federal government has said it won’t fight the legalization, marijuana is still illegal under federal law. That makes banks leery about taking money from the retail outlets.
King County Sheriff John Urquhart, whose jurisdiction includes Seattle, testified before a U.S. Senate committee on Tuesday.
He said without banks, marijuana sales would be cash-only, encouraging robbery.
“We all agree, we don't want to keep enriching criminals,” said Urquhart, a former narcotics detective. “Washington's law honors those values by separating consumers from gangs and diverting the proceeds from the sale of marijuana toward furthering the goals of public safety.”
Though the federal government has said it won’t do so, banks are worried they might get slapped with racketeering charges if they accept marijuana money.
Washington governor Jay Inslee has asked the U.S. Congress to pass House Bill 2652 – the Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act. It would protect banks that do business with legal marijuana retail outlets.
Danielle Burton, who manages Mary Jane’s House of Glass in Mill Plain, said she’s already seeing an uptick in business and is happy for any cooperation she can get.
“Definitely a lot of new faces,” she said. “It seems like a lot of the older crowd that kinda went dormant in the 70s is now coming out because there’s a lot of excitement that people don’t have to worry about being in trouble so much anymore.
“Anybody that's willing to work with us as an industry, obviously we could be grateful for that. Again, we're all a partnership - like I said, we're excited to work with everybody on this.”