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Cannabis banking draws more interest as industry optimistic on legal clarity

For years, only a small number of banks and credit unions have been willing to offer their services to the cannabis industry, giving its cash-laden businesses a place to safely deposit their money without fear of robbery.

But the number of institutions willing to do so appears to be growing. And now, those early adopters are moving beyond deposit services and slowly starting to offer loans to the cannabis industry — which has struggled to get access to credit even as more states legalize the drug.

Those efforts could get a boost from President Joe Biden's administration and the Democratic majority in Congress. Even if policymakers opt against legalizing the drug at the federal level, analysts say the banking industry may get the green light to offer services to cannabis companies in states where the drug is legal.

"Bankers are seeing clearly that there's a road map to providing services to these customers — and that we're not going backwards," said Tony Repanich, a former banker who is now president of Shield Compliance, a firm that helps institutions comply with the regulatory framework around cannabis banking.

The interest is spreading beyond just smaller financial institutions. Wayne, N.J.-based Valley National Bancorp, a regional bank with more than $40 billion in assets, has launched a pilot program to accept deposits from a few larger corporate customers. It sees an opportunity to help multi-state operators manage their operations in compliance with different states' regulations by using software that verifies the legality of each transaction ahead of time. In New Jersey, for example, voters have approved the legalization of marijuana, but neighboring states have only legalized the drug for medical purposes.

Valley National decided to get into the space after a "pretty exhaustive due diligence process," said Chief Financial Services Officer Rick Kraemer. Its early efforts to understand how to work with the industry could also give it an advantage over banks that wait until federal regulations have been loosened to set up programs, he added.

"Having these rails around it right now and building this process now will only benefit us more when and if it becomes federally legal," Kraemer said.

Read the full story on S&P Global Market Intelligence


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