Florida’s medical marijuana industry is one of the most restrictive in the country. New and barely tested, the state’s legalization framework underwent drastic legislative changes before being enacted into law this year, including an outright ban on smokeable marijuana. In the face of those strict regulations, however, Florida’s burgeoning cannabis industry is already ahead of the its West Coast peers in one highly contentious avenue - legal banking.
According to the Palm Beach Post, Florida’s First Green Bank is going where no other federally insured financial institutions will go, by facilitating business accounts for six of the state’s seven state-approved marijuana businesses.
“It’s our understanding we’re the only one doing it,” Ken LaRoe, founder and chairman of First Green Bank told the Post.
Of course, LaRoe and the rest of First Green’s suits are well aware of how the federal government feels about legal weed money flowing through their FDIC-backed institutions, but that hasn’t gotten in their way. Instead of inviting dispensary owners and their bags of cash through the front door, First Green has set up a system that employs a third party armored truck company to transport cash from pot shops directly to the closest Federal Reserve location.
“We don’t touch the cash,” LaRoe said.
Still, First Green, which got its name from a dedication to the environment instead of from our favorite plant, is not completely safe from Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice. Because the feds consider state-sponsored weed as much a criminal enterprise as illicit sales in prohibition states, any call from the DOJ to cut ties with the ganjapreneurs would likely be taken very seriously.
“The state wants us to have a rock-solid kill switch,” LaRoe said.
Despite the $30 million in cannabis deposits accepted by First Green, LaRoe concedes that if Sessions or his lackeys come knocking, those accounts would be closed within 24 hours.
But while other banks shy away from the cannabis industry entirely, First Green has become unmistakably involved, even approving a $2.6 million mortgage on a multi-use property in Lake Worth, FL that will, among other businesses, house a medical marijuana dispensary. However, the bank could be on the hook if the pot shop is raided and seized, or face prosecution for knowingly facilitating what the federal government still considers organized crime.
LaRoe says that he was drawn to the cannabis industry after medical marijuana helped his wife recover from seizures caused by a serious bike injury. First Green worked with state regulators for months to convince them that they could responsibly handle the legal weed profits. Now LaRoe and his controversial revenue stream even has the support of the state’s financial services trade group.
“To their credit, they have checked every box,” Alex Sanchez, head of the Florida Bankers Association, said. “They have done an incredible amount of due diligence to get to this point.”
And with all the bank’s t’s crossed and i’s dotted, LaRoe is anxious for other banks to join First Green and start taking chances to support the country’s cannabis providers, even if it means flying close to the sun.
“I’d like to see other banks getting into it,” LaRoe said, “just because there’s strength in numbers.”