Alaska USA Federal Credit Union made a surprising move recently by closing ten accounts of individuals who are linked to starting cannabis businesses in the state.
Lack of access to banking services has been a mainstay of the cannabis industry, but this is the first major account of a bank closing personal accounts. Banks typically go after cannabis business and leave individuals alone, but this Alaska bank seems to want to go above and beyond to prevent government scrutiny.
It seems obviously premature to close these accounts as no stores have opened and no cannabis products have been manufactured. The bank seems to be airing on the farthest side of caution possible, with the idea that these personal accounts could in theory be used to conduct business matters.
Local news organizations are reporting that banks have openly said they have not closed any accounts yet, with the exception of two who gave no comment.
The bank issued a letter to the ten individuals stating, “Alaska USA is a federally chartered credit union, we do not offer account services to any person or organization engaged in the operation of a marijuana-related business, or any other type of business that violates federal law.”
The crux of the issue for the banks is that cannabis is still, yes still, a Federally illegal substance. Banks are governed by the Federal government, and it is no surprise that they do not want to risk getting into trouble by allowing Federally illegal transactions to be processed through their institution.
The illegal status of cannabis results in the bank being at risk for prosecution under money-laundering laws. Cannabis businesses are much more motivated to shoulder the legal risks of violating Federal law than a bank who has a handful of cannabis businesses in an ocean of accounts.
Legally there is no inherent American right to a bank account, as banks are free to deny service to anyone they choose. Ethically I think it is obviously a double standard to allow a pharmaceutical company a bank account while denying one to a cannabis business. The real issue is misclassification of cannabis by the government!
Do you think this Alaska bank has gone too far in closing these personal accounts? Tell us what you think in the comments below or on Facebook!