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Colorado Lawmakers Approve First Marijuana Banking System

The plan would create a system of financial cooperatives that would allow basic banking services for marijuana businesses, which are currently limited by the federal government.

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AP Photo/Brennan Linsley

Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, listens to discussion on a bill he sponsored which would allow marijuana dispensaries to form financial co-operatives, at the Colorado Legislature, in Denver, Wednesday May 7, 2014.

Colorado lawmakers voted Wednesday to pass a bill that creates a network of uninsured financial cooperatives designed to allow marijuana businesses access to basic banking needs, like checking accounts and loans.

The weed industry has largely been cash-only, as most financial institutions fear repercussions from the federal government, which still maintains marijuana and its proceeds are illegal. As a consequence, pot businesses deal in cash, which makes them more vulnerable to criminals.

Colorado was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, starting Jan. 1. Washington state legalized weed and retail sales are expected to begin in July.

In February, the U.S. Treasury Department said that it was OK for banks to serve the marijuana industry under certain conditions. Despite the U.S. government's new guidelines, many banks have stayed clear of marijuana business, citing the guidelines as too vague. States want to track and tax the industry, which will be easier with money going through standard channels.

Wednesday's bill would allow pot businesses, which includes hemp as well as marijuana, to put their money together into co-ops. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper said he supports the plan and is expected to sign the bill into law, but must first review it.

The bill still depends on the approval of the U.S. Federal Reserve, which must agree to allow the co-ops to do things like accept credit cards or checks.

Michelle Broder Van Dyke is a reporter and night editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Hawaii.

Contact Michelle Broder Van Dyke at

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