Mass. credit union will serve recreational marijuana companies

A Massachusetts credit union will turn out to be the primary monetary establishment within the state to supply banking providers to recreational marijuana companies, a step that will permit shoppers to pay for pot with plastic and helps cannabis companies keep away from the costly and dangerous proposition of operating all-cash operations.

GFA Federal Credit Union, based in 1938 to serve French-Canadian immigrants and headquartered in Gardner, advised the Globe Thursday that it’s able to wade into the recreational marijuana sector, following a yr of analysis and preparations.

Other banks and credit unions have thus far stayed on the sidelines, calculating that it’s legally and financially dangerous to deal with the proceeds of cannabis gross sales so long as the drug stays unlawful on the federal degree.

But Tina Sbrega, GFA’s chief government, stated her credit union concluded it might legally — and profitably — present banking providers to marijuana operators, and that doing so would enhance public security.

Construction on the GFA Federal Credit Union in Gardner, as shown on Thursday.© Michael Swensen for The Boston Globe
Construction on the GFA Federal Credit Union in Gardner, as proven on Thursday.

“We’re looking at a cannabis business as a legitimate business that wants to be recognized as such and that, without banking services, presents a tremendous public safety issue in our communities,” Sbrega stated. “Otherwise, you’re talking millions and millions of dollars of cash on the street.”

GFA will start accepting marijuana shoppers by Oct. 1, providing them primary providers similar to money administration, checking accounts, payroll, wire transfers, and invoice funds.

With simply over $500 million in belongings, GFA is small in comparison with nationwide giants akin to State Street Corp. or Bank of America Corp., which measure their measurement within the lots of of billions and trillions of dollars, respectively. Nonetheless, its standing as a state-chartered credit union ought to make it simpler for GFA to simply accept cash derived from marijuana gross sales with out inviting federal scrutiny or endangering its present investments and clientele.

To launch the brand new enterprise, GFA is incorporating a brand new subsidiary and partnering with Safe Harbor, a Colorado-based firm that contracts with monetary establishments to assist them vet potential cannabis shoppers and meet strict federal guidelines for dealing with marijuana cash. For instance, banks and credit unions should file “suspicious activity reports” to the US Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, detailing each marijuana-related transaction.

GFA’s transfer comes as a aid to many stakeholders within the cannabis business.

Companies licensed by the state to develop, course of, and promote marijuana had been getting ready to rely and securely retailer giant portions of paper cash — and plotting out the logistics of paying staff, distributors, and state tax-collectors in money.

Now they need to have the ability to switch these funds electronically, like most different companies, and in addition settle for debit playing cards from buyers on the register. Perhaps most significantly, companies gained’t have to direct staff to deal with and transport giant sums of money.

“It’s a hard thing to ask someone to walk around with $20,000 in their pocket when people know this is a cash industry,” stated Jim Smith, an lawyer for marijuana companies who helped discovered the Massachusetts Cannabis Business Association. “Convenience stores get robbed for just a few hundred bucks — we don’t want that. We don’t want cash. We want to work like a traditional retailer, with debit cards and everything else.”

Laury Lucien, an lawyer and entrepreneur working to start out a small marijuana cultivation and retail operation in Southeastern Massachusetts, stated she would “absolutely be interested” in opening an account with GFA.

“Having an institution where we could deposit our cash would be so helpful,” Lucien stated. “Otherwise, it makes me anxious to think about all the simple things an ordinary business takes for granted — paying your bills, your employees, keeping track of taxes. Doing everything with large amounts of cash is expensive and time-consuming, and it creates lots of room for error and diversion.”

Steve Hoffman, the chairman of the Cannabis Control Commission, additionally hailed the information, saying it ought to alleviate considerations about crime — and encourage extra entrepreneurs to enter the pot business, in flip offering shoppers with larger selection and accessibility.

Hoffman met repeatedly with GFA, reassuring the credit union that the state would intently monitor the actions of marijuana merchandise with its “seed-to-sale” monitoring system and implement stringent laws on cannabis companies and their staff. Currently, he stated, the fee is having comparable conversations with a number of different banks and credit unions which are getting ready to enter the recreational area.

“It’s a real big deal that GFA decided to enter this industry,” Hoffman stated in an interview. “I expect that it’s going to look like other states, where once the first institution dips its toes in the water, there will be others that follow.”

Even regulation enforcement officers who opposed marijuana legalization cheered GFA’s announcement, saying it will considerably scale back the danger of robberies.

“Public safety-wise, this is a home run,” stated John Carmichael, Walpole’s chief of police and a member of the state’s Cannabis Advisory Board. “I’m very happy about this, and police chiefs across Massachusetts will be very happy. We’ve always been supportive of banks getting involved, so we could prevent crime related to cash at dispensaries and keep people safe.”

Carmichael added that banking data and laws will make it simpler for regulation enforcement officers and regulators to watch the actions of licensed marijuana companies and examine suspicious transactions — making certain producers and retailers are paying their taxes and never diverting cannabis to the illicit market.

Despite the near-universal optimism, GFA’s entry into the recreational enterprise isn't a panacea for all of the challenges dealing with marijuana companies.

For one factor, the credit union till subsequent yr will solely settle for a “test group” of 15 to 20 cannabis shoppers, which means some companies might nonetheless be pressured to deal solely in money if different monetary establishments don’t supply them banking quickly.

Another limitation: GFA for now will not supply loans to marijuana companies. A scarcity of entry to institutional capital has been a key stumbling block for smaller companies within the cannabis fee’s fairness and financial empowerment packages, which are supposed to promote the inclusion of these disproportionately impacted by get-tough drug legal guidelines of the previous few many years.

Sbrega stated GFA will consider whether or not to offer loans to such companies subsequent yr. However, she emphasised that within the meantime, the credit union and Safe Harbor will not flip away smaller companies in search of checking accounts in favor of bigger established operators.

Currently, only one monetary establishment in Massachusetts — Medford-based Century Bank — supplies checking accounts and different primary providers to nearly all of the state’s medical marijuana dispensaries.

Century has not stated whether or not it will be a part of the recreational sector.

Recreational marijuana gross sales in Massachusetts have been supposed to start on July 1, however have been delayed because the fee works to course of license purposes and examine marijuana amenities. However, Hoffman stated the fee might green-light the state’s first pot retailer at its subsequent assembly, scheduled for Sept. 20.

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