New bill would allow weed dispensaries to get bank accounts

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - A new bill has moved in front of the U.S. Senate that would make big changes to how marijuana dispensaries are run by allowing owners use federal banks for their accounting.

The bill is H.R. 1595, and is being called the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act, or ‘SAFE’ bill for short.

Although recreational use cannabis is allowed here in Alaska, the plant is still illegal at the federal level. Because it’s still illegal at that level, federal banks can’t do business with marijuana dispensaries. That’s why most dispensaries are only able to take cash as a form of payment.

Here in Alaska, Credit Union 1 tried to supply checking and savings accounts to dispensaries, but their program has since been discontinued.

According to Dankorage co-owner Lily Bosshart, there’s a lot of complications to running a strictly cash business.

“We have to pay our vendors in cash, pay our employees in cash,” she said. “It creates a situation where we don’t have access to other things that other small businesses do.”

Bosshart said her business varies from month to month, but they do sell a lot of pot in general. She said that means there’s a lot of cash on hand most of the time, which makes her business a bigger target for robberies like most dispensaries.

In fact, she said she and other dispensaries have much higher insurance rates because of that liability.

Having to pay for everything from the electric bill to your payroll is a lot to juggle, she said. While she does pay her vendors in cash, fortunately she said they arrange for the supplier to get the money so she doesn’t have to transport it herself.

However, the state revenue collectors can’t come and collect her taxes, so she has to go downtown Anchorage to the PFD office across the street from the Atwood Building. She doesn’t like carrying that much cash around there.

“I have to deliver it in large sums to the office, and I know cultivators have to do the same,” she said, “They’re bringing their state taxes, in cash to that building, and there’s not one person in my industry that doesn’t have concerns about the safety of that.”

Back in July, there was about $1.5 million in tax dollars put into a small deposit box in that building according to Brandon Spanos, Deputy Director of the Department of Revenue Tax Division.

Spanos said they don’t quite have the resources to pay someone to count that money as a full time job, but they still have to do it. So a couple people get selected to add it to their workload.

“Sure, if their payments could be made electronically, it would be considerably more efficient,” he said, “it takes a lot of time to have two employees go over there and check for payment daily, and toward the end of the month, we get more payments and they’re in there for a few hours counting cash.”

Spanos said they have the system working as efficiently as possible given its about 80% cash, but admits there would be much fewer headaches in accounting it all if federal banking were allowed.

“If it became less of a risk for banks that bank the industry, more banks would be doing it,” he said, “It would be easier for Alaska, because we could reassign the employees that are counting cash to other duties.”

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