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At a time when people are replacing credit cards and ATMs with their smart phones, it seems that California is recommending increased use of armored cars. The reason? On January 1st, recreational marijuana will be legal in California but still illegal at the federal level requiring marijuana business to pay their sales taxes in cash.
The issue is that banks are still unsure of how to handle marijuana businesses’ money without being subject to prosecution for issues like money laundering. The Justice Department has issued “guidelines” to banks on how to avoid prosecution but most banks don’t consider guidelines as legal protection. And not surprisingly, the guidelines are confusing and incomplete. This leads to a cash-based business, which in turn creates the potential for fraud, money laundering, underreporting taxes, and a whole host of other issues.
In California, the marijuana industry is expected to grow to as much as $7 billion a year in revenues. In anticipation of this, State Treasurer John Chiang formed a task force to figure out how to collect and transport the funds. Their recommendation, among others, was armored cars. Ugh. But who can blame them? Colorado tried to set up a credit union specifically for the marijuana industry but it was denied by the Federal Reserve in 2015. So, there’s not a lot of great options out there.
I, for one, will be closely watching the rollout of legal recreational marijuana. With a healthy tax of around 15%, a University of California Agricultural Issues study claims that 29% of marijuana users may choose to buy the drug illegally. Those sales likely won’t be reported, won’t be taxed, and won’t end up in armored cars.