KGVO News spoke to Cary Hegreberg on Monday about how the federal government prohibits local banks from serving new and existing recreational and medicinal marijuana shops, due to the fact that marijuana is still a Schedule One drug.

However, there are ways that such businesses can do business without having to travel out of state to deposit their cash, and that now includes some Missoula area credit unions.

On Tuesday, KGVO News spoke with Jack Lawson, President and Chief Executive Officer with Clearwater Credit Union in Missoula.

Lawson said credit unions and some banks are able to serve businesses that sell legal recreational and medicinal marijuana.

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“Both banks and credit unions face very serious and significant compliance hurdles and burdens when serving medical or recreational adult use cannabis businesses,” said Lawson. “But there are a small handful of financial institutions, both banks and credit unions across the country that have, in fact figured out how to, in a prudent way, serve licensed and compliant cannabis businesses.”

Without going into great detail, Lawson explained how Clearwater Credit Union is able to serve these new businesses in a limited way.

“What we have done through some investment in compliance through a considerable amount of board education, and transparent work with our regulators to develop a program whereby we can in fact, serve the deposit and transactional needs of cannabis related businesses in the state of Montana,” he said. “We have a program set up whereby we have been opening accounts for probably close to two years now and have a considerable book of business in that area. We do not, however, provide lending or credit services.”

Lawson said his company went the extra mile to help cannabis related businesses in a safe and secure manner.

“We have been working to develop a program that allows us to build capacity, stay compliant with our regulators and serve businesses,” he said. “We're not in it in order to win the entire market or generate a tremendous amount of profit. We want to make sure that we're doing the project well, and that cannabis related businesses that are offering operating in a compliant fashion and are licensed have a place to park their cash and are not asked to hide the fact that they are that type of business so there’s no need to drive cash across state lines or to carry large sacks of cash around town. None of those things are in the community interest.”

Lawson said Clearwater’s new cannabis related customers are grateful to have a safe and secure financial home.

“I think that the businesses that are banking with us do in fact, feel a sense of relief that they can operate aboveboard and transparently,” he said. “However, I will also say that it's not an easy load for them either. The compliance requirements, the due diligence, the reporting, the fee structure that we ask of them is also a heavy lift for them. But those businesses that are banking with us meet that burden, because they know this is the right way to do business.”

According to Gallup polls, over 60 percent of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana, up 20 percent from only 10 years ago. Montanans voted overwhelmingly in 2020 to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana.

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