First GREEN Tests Banking Limits for Florida Marijuana Businesses – Daily Business Review (registration)
Ken LaRoe, founder, board chairman and CEO of the holding company First GREEN Bancorp.
Florida’s First GREEN Bank has taken on a risk that most other banks have refused: opening accounts for medical marijuana dispensaries and the lawyers, doctors, and vendors that serve them.
“Any company that thinks they are going to have a problem because of their affiliation, we’ll bank them,” said Lex Ford, senior vice president of First GREEN Bank’s medical marijuana division. “We will take on accounts from any ancillary business that is affected by the medical marijuana industry.”
Conflict between state and federal pot laws has long made it difficult for state law-sanctioned marijuana businesses to find banks willing to accept their money.
“The banks are concerned that if the federal government starts prosecuting drug crimes aggressively or the new administration takes a different enforcement position than the last administration, then they could be seen to be facilitating drug crimes,” said William Shepherd, a partner with Holland & Knight in West Palm Beach, and formerly Florida’s statewide prosecutor.
Banks are required to report any suspicious activity on accounts to federal regulators. Legalized marijuana businesses don’t just qualify, they rate their own type of Suspicious Activity Report (SAR). Bank anti-money laundering experts say the reporting and monitoring required for such accounts is onerous and comes with the specter of an investigation targeting not only the account, but potentially endangering the bank’s charter.
Most banks have decided the business isn’t worth it.
“The fundamental issue for them to grapple with is, ‘Yeah I filed a SAR, but am I supporting a business that the federal government is going to continue to say is illegal?’ Until banks get some stronger guidance from their federal regulators, they have to wade into it very carefully, if they go into