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Medical marijuana dispensaries face problems with banks

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Polling shows that voter approval of medical marijuana is likely this November. State lawmakers, who are in Chicago for a national legislative conference, are being told to be ready for a banking dilemma. It is a problem already being faced by the small number of dispensaries in the state.

When Trulieve opened the first low THC dispensary, its first sale was a cash transaction. That’s because no bank wanted to touch the pot-tainted money, for fear of federal regulators.

At the conference in Chicago, the Colorado Bankers Association told lawmakers from across the country that no matter what states do, pot is still an illegal Schedule 1 drug in the eyes of the federal government.

“It's basically a question of following federal law, and taking on very large liabilities if you don’t,” Don Childers, with Colorado Bankers Association, said.

Marijuana is already a $7 billion a year business, but lawmakers in Chicago were told that is going triple by the year 2020.

Cannabis has its own trade association, which is asking local lawmakers to put pressure on Washington.

“Businesses are often being forced to operate in cash, or with bank accounts that can be taken away at any moment,” Taylor West, with National Cannabis Industry Association, said.

St. Petersburg state Sen. Jeff Brandes said the ultimate solution is for the U.S. to take marijuana out of the list of Schedule 1 drugs.

“It really is a federal challenge that we are dealing with, but other states, other marijuana providers, have found a way to deal with it," Brandes said.

Oregon, which legalized marijuana a year ago, recently passed a bill saying banks can’t be penalized for dealing with legal businesses, but lawmakers there admit it's more of a message to Washington than anything else.

The Federal Food and Drug Administration can cage the way marijuana is scheduled without congressional approval, but it has been slow to do so. Legislation to order the change has passed both the House and Senate, but at separate times.