Colorado Unveils ‘Roadmap to Banking’ for Marijuana Industry

Thursday, February 06, 2020

On Monday, Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) announced a “Roadmap to Cannabis Banking & Financial Services” aimed at increasing access to banking for the state’s marijuana and hemp industries. Polis announced the plan in conjunction with the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA).

“As the first state to establish a legal marijuana industry and one of the first to implement an industrial hemp program, Colorado has become a national economic leader in the cannabis industry,” said Governor Jared Polis in a press release. “We are excited to release a bold, forward-thinking roadmap to provide much-needed guidance, clarity and support to state-chartered financial service providers that work with or are interested in working with the state-legal cannabis industry.”

The plan includes “seven primary areas of focus,” including:

  • Providing clear regulatory guidance
  • Encouraging new and emerging technologies in the banking and financial services space
  • Reducing barriers while upholding consumer protection guardrails
  • Demonstrating state support for financial businesses wishing to explore cannabis banking

Cannabis is legal in eleven states plus Washington, D.C., but both state and federal laws aimed at providing guidance and protection for the financial industry haven’t made much headway. The House of Representatives passed the SAFE Banking Act last year with bipartisan support, but it’s unclear when or if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will bring it to the floor for a vote.

“The lack of federal clarity creates a level of uncertainty and apprehension for our Colorado state-chartered banks and credit unions to provide basic financial services to legal cannabis-related businesses,” said DORA Executive Director Patty Salazar. “This roadmap is designed to lay out a path whereby our state-chartered financial institutions can explore whether or not they are in a position to provide services to this industry.”

Limited or no access to banking services means that many cannabis businesses, especially those that touch the plant, operate entirely in cash.

“Unbanked cannabis businesses often operate solely in cash, creating a significant risk to public safety,” said Treasurer Dave Young. ”By providing essential banking services to cannabis businesses, Colorado can lead the way in protecting public safety and promoting financial transparency.”

Congressman Ed Perlmutter (D-Lakewood), who was the lead sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act joined Gov. Polis at the announcement of the roadmap.

“Too many Colorado businesses, employees and communities have been targets of assault, robbery and other crimes due to the conflict between state and federal law when it comes to cannabis banking. I appreciate Governor Polis and his team working to improve access to the financial industry for Colorado cannabis and cannabis-related businesses. However, it is critical that Congress acts, including by advancing the SAFE Banking Act. Only by aligning state and federal law can we fully resolve the issues necessary to get cash off our streets and improve public safety in our communities,” said Perlmutter.