More states legalize cannabis every year, yet banks and other financial institutions are hesitant to get involved in the billion-dollar industry for fear of federal retaliation under prohibition.

There has been movement at a congressional level to resolve this problem and clear up the rules for financial institutions, but not enough movement yet to pass what is called the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act. The SAFE Banking Act has achieved what no other cannabis banking legislation has before, and that is to be passed by the House of Representatives. Now it waits. Even though it has bipartisan support, a divided Senate has made getting through the necessary committees and on the right calendars to be difficult.

Without that assurance, banks remain hesitant to dip their toes into the cannabis industry. This stonewalling makes sense from a bank’s risk perspective, but that leaves cannabis businesses holding all the risk themselves, and it has made some a target for burglary and theft.

Larger cannabis producers have invested heavily in security to protect their assets, but smaller businesses can’t afford the armored cars and guards it takes to transport cash safely. They have to keep all their cash on site if there is no place to deposit it. Especially without access to financial services such as loans, dispensaries will find it hard to recover from a break-in or hold-up if they don’t have some banked away.

Even for dispensaries that manage to get basic business financial services, many services are still barred from being offered to cannabis-related businesses. Visa and other credit card networks refuse to work with cannabis-related businesses until there is a change in federal marijuana law. This leads to dispensaries carrying unusually high amounts of cash compared to other potential burglary targets. If a thief only gets a hold of dispensary product, that can be sold on the illegal market and further damage the dispensary’s potential earnings.

Increased incidents of violence at dispensaries has employees concerned about whether they should be carrying weapons while they serve weed. Some workers face daily threats from customers, while others have faced worse. A budtender was shot and killed in Washington after a customer was denied entry for not having a proper ID, and another in Oregon was slain by armed intruders that were likely behind a string of Portland burglaries. The story went differently in Oklahoma, where a suspected armed robber was shot and killed by an armed budtender.

But guns aren’t an easy answer, either. Federal law currently prohibits cannabis patients from having firearms.

Dispensaries are attractive targets to burglars because of the large amounts of cash that must be kept onsite. Being able to find a bank that will work with your cannabis business is crucial to protect your business’s future. More and more banks are beginning to work with cannabis every month, though that has slowed in the anticipation of the SAFE Banking Act passing.

Do you think the SAFE Banking Act will pass this year? What’s the best way for dispensaries to protect themselves? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

About the Author: Brian Ellis

With 6 years' experience in business journalism, Brian is the person we turn to for anything related to the business of cannabis. His news coverage spans topics including marijuana business and finance. Brian's work features on,, , and