Banking may become easier for marijuana businesses

LANSING — As a member of the marijuana industry, Max Martinez understands the struggle of working with banks.

As the owner of Pure West, a medical marijuana dispensary in Holland, Martinez has been turned away by banks throughout his seven-year tenure at the company.

Most dispensaries allow transactions to be completed only in cash, as marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and banks could be charged with a crime if they do banking transactions with dispensaries.

Now, he may soon get the help he needs.

A bill awaiting the governor’s approval would revise the state law that regulates medical marijuana facilities, including protection for accountants and financial institutions from sanctions when dealing with a marijuana licensee.

“You got to understand, too — like in our perspective in the business, it’s already happened,” Martinez said. “It’s not that, ‘Oh, wow, Michigan is barely jumping on.’ It’s already happened in other states.”

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township, got final approval from the House and Senate this month.

“To answer from a different perspective, as a business owner who has been doing this for seven years, yeah, it’s nice to be able to go to a bank and ask them, but again, I’ve been turned away from so many banks,” Martinez said. “It’s a really rude impression that they leave, so I really haven’t had to use a bank myself.”

But the separation between dispensaries and banks goes beyond the doors of Martinez’s business.

For Martinez, paying his bills is a challenge because he’s unable to have auto-pay set up with the bank.

“The problem is that when I do go, they always try to say, ‘Well, you’re doing this with it, or you’re doing that with it.’ It’s like, ‘No, that’s not the case. I just need to function in this business.

“I don’t really need you, but if I have to pay my bills like electricity or stuff I would like to have on auto-pay, I can’t do that, because, ‘Oh, you’re doing this with this.’’ So, that’s where that perspective comes from,” he said.

Penny Milkey and her husband, Ryan, the co-owners of North Specialty Health in Houghton., have experienced great frustration from banks not being willing to cooperate.

“There is progress being made with the legality of dispensaries in Michigan,” she said. “However, since it is still a federally scheduled substance, that does prevent a lot of banks from wanting to work with us.”

Since they took over the store in December 2013, she and her husband have been cut off and given no access at all to the banking system, which can make conducting business difficult.

“It will be amazing if it goes through, because we will actually be able to use a banking system,” Milkey said of the bill. “It just seems like they would want people to use a banking system, because they could track everything better.”

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