Numerica to serve pot growers and processors, but not retailers

Businesses that plan to grow or process marijuana in Eastern Washington can bank with a Spokane Valley credit union.

But other legal pot businesses – those that sell marijuana products to customers – are not going to be eligible to open accounts at Numerica Credit Union, the only financial institution in Washington so far willing to handle the cash generated by the state’s entry into legalized marijuana.

In February, Numerica, the state’s fifth-largest credit union with around 100,000 members, said it was preparing to offer banking services under the state’s legal pot law, approved by voters in November 2012.

Numerica’s executive group decided against creating accounts for pot retailers in order to comply with Justice Department guidelines issued last summer on how banks or credit unions can work with those businesses without being prosecuted.

Among other conditions, the federal guidelines say banks need to monitor retail stores so that large volumes of marijuana are not diverted from Washington to states where it is still illegal.

“We felt we could not fully control those circumstances” and ensure Numerica complied with federal guidelines, said credit union spokeswoman Kelli Hawkins.

Numerica officials will serve producers and distributors, however, “for the overall well-being of the community we serve,” and because those businesses need a secure and safe banking system, Hawkins said.

The credit union’s new guidelines are designed to ensure pot businesses conduct their banking with a large degree of transparency, she said.

Voter approval of Initiative 502 in November 2013 didn’t contemplate the legal challenge faced by banks in Washington as they considered the option of accepting money from pot businesses. While businesses are eager to jump into the new industry, banking officials across Washington say they fear possible federal intervention because possession or sale of marijuana is still a criminal offense at the federal level.

While Numerica is the only institution so far announcing it will offer accounts for Washington pot businesses, other institutions are rumored to be near doing the same, said Lyn Peters, communications director with Washington’s Department of Financial Institutions, based in Olympia.

The state Liquor Control Board estimates the first retail stores will begin selling marijuana in late July.

Beyond restricting pot retailers, Numerica’s rules for marijuana include:

• Each marijuana business bank account will be limited to $5 million in total deposits.

• No debit cards or credit cards tied to the account will be issued. The accounts also cannot use remote deposit capture – taking a photo of a check and depositing it via a cellphone.

• All deposits need to be made in person, with no night deposits allowed, Hawkins said.

• Account holders must live in a community where Numerica has a branch. The credit union has 17 branches in Washington and North Idaho.

The approved account holders won’t be allowed to conduct shared-network banking, Hawkins noted. For all other regular members, shared banking allows a person to make deposits or withdraw money from any other credit union that’s part of the network.

Account holders will be able to write checks, send wire payments and set up automated deposits into the account.

In February, Numerica was bombarded by inquiries from potential pot-business applicants. Since then, as the credit union explained the conditions placed on pot accounts, the level of interest has declined, Hawkins said.

So far, only two of the Eastern Washington businesses that have received state licenses to grow or process marijuana have made inquiries about getting a Numerica account, Hawkins said. Neither has submitted a completed application yet, she added.

The amount of cash in all its I-502 accounts will not be allowed to exceed 5 percent of the credit union’s total deposits, said Lynn Ciani, Numerica’s executive vice president and general counsel.

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