Pot tax money should ride on armored cars, California treasurer says


California should use armored cars to transport hundreds of millions of dollars in cash tax payments expected next year with the state's legal marijuana market, the state treasurer said Tuesday.

Though eight states have legalized recreational marijuana and 30 permit medical cannabis, the federal government still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I narcotic on par with heroin.

As a result the banking industry has not been willing to do business with pot growers, manufacturers or retailers. That makes them targets for crime, with tales of dispensaries being robbed and workers harmed.

In anticipation of the largely cash industry, Chiang on Tuesday released a report from his Cannabis Working Group, outlining how California can address the lack of banking.

"My office is working to develop a multi-state consortium involving dozens of states and local governments to pull resources and work to help federal law catch up to faster evolving values and viewpoints of the state", Chiang said.

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Sebastopol attorney Omar Figueroa said he hoped the prospect of a public bank of California, and its potential to take business away from Wall Street, will push financial institutions to do more to lobby the federal government to change laws that prevent cannabis companies from accessing bank accounts, loans and other financial services. The county also has one of the highest missing-persons rates in the state, he said.

Operating as a cash business not only presents a unsafe scenario for pot businesses, but it makes it harder for state and local governments to take their cut through sales taxes.

With that date in mind, Chiang's 18-member working group - which includes representatives from state agencies, financial groups and industry organizations - has held six public meetings throughout the state in the past 11 months, inviting almost 50 experts to speak and taking public feedback on the issue.

Chiang wants armed contractors to pick up tax and licensing payments from unbanked, cash-heavy marijuana businesses and deliver them to secure counting facilities. The information would help banks fulfill a federal obligation to "know their customers" before accepting deposits.

"We don't understand how this bank would be treated any differently from any state or federally chartered bank" that is attempting to serve marijuana-related business clients, said Beth Mills, senior vice president of the California Banking Association.

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Recreational marijuana becomes legal in California on January 1, 2018.

Among the suggestions? Hiring armored courier services to handle the industry's cash and studying whether the state should create a public bank for cannabis businesses. Talk of this option has brought out both supporters and skeptics, and previous efforts to make a public bank for marijuana businesses have either been dismissed as too pricey or shut down by regulators.

Given that 44 states have already legalized cannabis in one form or another, it is only a matter of time until cannabis businesses have normal access to banking services.

State Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones launched an initiative earlier this year to encourage commercial insurance companies to cover the cannabis industry.

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