With marijuana being a federal Schedule I drug, Oklahoma financial institutions are looking for ways to legally work with new marijuana-related businesses in the state.
Oklahoma Bankers Association President and CEO Roger Beverage said while there are varying interpretations on the array of federal agencies’ memos and guidance, his advice is simple.
"If I’m a lawyer advising a bank, I have just one word: don’t. Do not do it. It is illegal," Beverage said. "And right now, I cannot, as a lawyer, tell you how to do it because that’s unethical, and if I want to keep practicing law, then I have to consider that."
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Obama administration’s guidance to essentially leave businesses alone in states where marijuana is legal, and budget amendments keeping Department of Justice funding from being spent on prosecuting state-legal marijuana businesses must be renewed each year.
There is federal legislation to match DOJ enforcement policy with state decisions on marijuana, but it is unlikely to move forward soon.
Oklahoma Credit Union Association President Nate Webb said the current situation needs to change.
"If there are not traditional, legitimate banking services available, the money will flow somehow. And to be able to provide these services is, well, a public safety issue, among other things," Webb said.
The Oklahoma Tax Commission could struggle with marijuana businesses' lack of legal access to financial institutions. Current state rules say the tax commission will collect the 7 percent sales tax on medical marijuana, and officials expect those taxes will be paid largely in cash since dispensaries likely won’t have bank accounts or other ways to pay electronically.
The tax is due the 20th of each month, and the tax commission’s Oklahoma City office is the only place to pay it.
"So, we are looking to have — just being straight up — a mess on our hands. We’re not set up to have 500 people walk in at 9 o’clock on the 20th of the month," said Oklahoma Tax Commission Director Tony Mastin.
That has the tax commission arranging for counting machines and armored trucks to deal with medical marijuana sales tax payments.