This week, California State Treasurer John Chiang announced that a San Diego firm, Level 4 Ventures, had been selected to determine how feasible it would be for the state to establish a public cannabis bank.
In a statement announcing the selection, the Office of the State Treasurer noted the need for a public cannabis bank has stirred intense interest and debate among financial experts, public officials and the cannabis industry, as well as people seeking an alternative to too-big-to-fail Wall Street behemoths.
“This study aims to settle the lingering critical questions about whether a public cannabis bank is possible,” Chiang said. “And if it is determined to be feasible, the report will place in our hands what amounts to a set of blueprints to design such a bank and make it fully operational.”
The state went on to say the promises and challenges of expansion that came with the passage of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act two years ago are being faced by an industry handling the unique challenges of lacking banking services due to federal law. This lack of financial options is not obviously just a hassle for dispensaries forced to do everything in cash, but it’s also created a logistical nightmare for the state around collecting its taxes, too.
As all these realities began to sink in following the passage of California’s legal cannabis law in November 2016, Chiang established an 18-member working group to tackle the issue in December 2016. The Cannabis Banking Working Group was meant to develop strategies and solutions aimed at helping cannabis businesses transition to true practical transparency allowing them to be regulated and taxed as voters intended. Conducting an objective, an evidence-based feasibility study was one of the group’s four major recommendations.
The second recommendations included the implementation of safer, more effective and scalable ways to handle the payment of taxes and fees in cash to minimize the risks to stakeholders.
The third recommendation was that the State of California and local governments develop a data portal of compliance and regulatory data that would then be made available to financial institutions that provide services to cannabis businesses. And finally, the group pushed for the founding of a multi-state consortium of state government representatives and other stakeholders that could pursue changes to federal law and remove the barriers to cannabis banking.
Level 4 Ventures are no strangers to cannabis.
They’ve previously been contracted by the State of Washington, where they helped streamline the Washington State Liquor Control Board’s licensing system via a cost/benefit analysis of current off-the-shelf software options they could use to fulfill their needs. Before Level 4 Ventures came on board, the liquor control board’s 25-year-old technology was considered one of the organization’s biggest liabilities.
But Level 4 Ventures also has a lot of expertise in startup banking as California sees it. So they’ll combine their past experiences and have a set of recommendations to the Treasurer by Dec. 1.
While Level 4 Ventures is crunching the numbers, the California Attorney General’s office has been tasked with studying the legal ramifications whatever kind of institution Level 4 Ventures comes up with might face. Their findings and recommendations are also due back in Sacramento on Dec. 1.
“Disruptive change and bold innovation require more than grandiose aspirations,” said Chiang. “They demand real-world pragmatism, data-driven solutions, and well-crafted blueprints that show how to translate dreams into reality. These two studies will enable policymakers to make informed decisions on whether to move forward or not on a public cannabis bank.”
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