大麻公司老板一直在苦苦寻求银行的金融服务，而且常常不得不使用现金。这个消息对于他们而言无疑是最动听的音乐。美国大麻行业协会（National Cannabis Industry Association）执行董事上个月曾经在《纽约时报》（New York Times）的一篇报道中称，银行服务是“合法的大麻产业当今最迫切的需求”。
与此同时，休斯顿预测大麻公司更有可能会涌向银行。他表示，许多Weedmaps的客户都是当地的小型药房，他们中的大多数都与美国银行（Bank of America）和美联银行（Wachovia）这类大型银行公开合作。“他们完全处于银行交易的最前线。对他们来说，用什么货币没有区别，但他们得告诉银行他们究竟在做什么。”不过即便是这些与银行有业务往来的公司，也有些找了四五家才碰到愿意合作的银行，经历堪称惨痛。
Late Friday the U.S. government released new rules that allow banks to work with licensed marijuana businesses. Banks have been reticent to provide services to companies in the burgeoning marijuana industry because the legality is murky. Marijuana is legal for recreational use in Colorado and Washington, and for medicinal use in 18 other states.
The new guidance asks banks to identify any suspicious transactions related to marijuana, including distribution to children, and illegal trafficking.
The news is music to the ears of marijuana business owners, who have struggled to find banking options and often resort to using cash. In a New York Times article last month, the executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association said banking was "the most urgent issue facing the legal cannabis industry today."
But the new guidance doesn't explicitly authorize banks to do business with marijuana companies. After all, marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Because of this, marijuana companies are likely to continue to struggle to find banks.
Barry Silbert, CEO of Secondmarket and avid Bitcoin investor, said he believes the news won't change banks' stance on marijuana companies. He predicted that Bitcoin processors would be the first movers in this space.
Indeed, plenty of marijuana companies are looking into how they might use the Bitcoin platform in lieu of traditional banks. "It is definitely not too far in the future," says Aaron Houston, policy advisor for Ghost Group, a private equity firm which invests in marijuana companies likeWeedmaps. "The future is now with respect to Bitcoin, regardless of marijuana or any business." He said plenty of people in the industry are interested in Bitcoin given the dearth of other banking options, but did not know of any companies currently using Bitcoin. The crypto-currency is complicated for the average small business owner to implement.
Tony Gallippi, CEO of Bitcoin payments company Bitpay, said his company won't allow marijuana on its platform until it is legal on a federal level. Once that happens, he says, Bitcoin will be a lower cost option for doing business than other forms of payment offered by a bank, including credit cards or cash. It also offers a lower risk of fraud and theft for any business, not just marijuana, he says.
In the meantime, Houston predicts marijuana companies are more likely to flock to banks. He said many of Weedmap's clients, which are mostly small, local dispensaries, are openly working with major banks like Bank of America (BAC) and Wachovia (WFC). "They are completely up front with the banks," he says. "There is no category for them, but they're telling their bankers exactly what they're doing." But even those businesses with banks have horror stories about going to four different banks before finding one that would work with them.
Houston believes last week's news is a big step toward mainstream investors getting involved in the marijuana business. Last April, ArcView Investor Network pitch events, which are focused on marijuana companies, only pulled around 25 investors, Houston says. The latest one had 150 investors in attendance. Even public figures are getting in on the action: New York State Assemblyman Steve Katz is planning to invest $10 million of his own money into marijuana-related companies.
"The bankers might be saying (they won't work with marijuana companies), but the fact is the market is moving in one direction and those guys are living in the past," Houston says. He's obviously biased. Ghost Group's biggest investment, Weedmaps, has been growing like a, uh… weed, hitting $30 million in revenue last year.