With ballot measures in nine states poised to legalize recreational or medical marijuana, Nov. 8 is shaping up as a huge day for the anti-prohibition set. It could also bring a tipping point for federal laws and regulations, especially those governing the banking industry.
While Reuters reports that the number of U.S. banks willing to work with marijuana businesses has grown by 45 percent over the last year, dispatches from Colorado and Washington state still have dispensary owners storing pallets of cash in warehouses, armored trucks and storage units. The U.S Justice Department has said for years now that it will not prosecute banks for doing business with state-sanctioned marijuana businesses, but the Treasury Department still requires them to report suspected drug crimes.
The situation is tenuous enough that most banks have remained on the sidelines and, as Humboldt County is well aware, cannabis remains a cash industry in most parts, with making payroll or paying a bill often requiring a large stack of greenbacks.
And, of course, this makes for quite a security risk — consider that more than 500 dispensary robberies have been reported in Denver since recreational use was legalized there three years ago. With an eye on this growing risk, as well as the potential for tax evasion and fraud, some feel the aftermath of Nov. 8 — which could see the total number of states sanctioning some type of marijuana business jump to 34, prompting annual industry sales to spike to $23 billion, according to Reuters — could push Congress to pass a hold-harmless law that would explicitly give banks the go-ahead to take the industry's cash, even if it smells a bit skunky.
But banks aren't the only ones looking to get their hands on that sweet, sweet weed money. The San Jose Mercury News reports that Silicon Valley is buzzing with the prospect of legalized recreational marijuana, "with startups cropping up throughout the Bay Area that put a signature Valley spin on the age-old practice of selling marijuana, offering sleek on-demand delivery apps for users and high-tech software for growers and dispensaries."
The Mercury News article notes that a flurry of niche "marijuana-focused investment firms," including rapper Snoop Dogg's Casa Verde Capital, Poseidon Asset Management and Electrum Partners, have stepped in to help fund this burgeoning pot tech boom.
"There's a big opportunity to be the next Google of the cannabis industry," Carter Laren, co-founder of Gateway, an Oakland-based incubator company focused on cannabis startups, told the Merc.
Others, meanwhile, are taking a more old-school approach to the potential new market. Octavia Wellness, based in San Francisco, operates much like Avon, the beauty and personal care company that cornered the direct sales market, largely by getting women to peddle products to their friends for a small commission while "hosting parties."
Octavia's specific model apparently targets seniors, according to the Mercury News piece, and the company's webpage offers an FAQ with all you need to know about hosting a party. For example, if you're wondering if you can offer food to your customers — err, friends — the FAQ has you covered: "Of course! Everyone knows that besides friends, cannabis also goes great with food."
So, if Proposition 64 passes next week, be leery the next time a friend you haven't spoken to in years calls to invite you to a party. You may find yourself stoned stiff among a bunch of strangers as they sample products and page through catalogs, all while your friend earns points on the package.