Alaska News

Does Alaska plan to create a state bank to handle canna-business funds?

Tristan asks Highly Informed, "Does Alaska have any plans to start or allow a state-backed bank to serve the marijuana industry?"

For several reasons, the answer is not right now, but that's far from the end of the discussion.

Kevin Anselm, director of Alaska's Division of Banking and Securities said via telephone that no, the state of Alaska has made no plans to start or allow such a bank. However, she did say that the possibility is being discussed and that people have asked her office a similar question.

"People are looking at options," Anselm said.

The options she laid out for creating a state-backed bank are somewhat complex, legal herb or not, and since Alaska's path toward one is barely a glimmer of a curiosity at this point, let alone a plan, I'll spare everyone the deepest ins and outs for now.

Read more Highly Informed: Seeking answers to Alaska's cannabis questions

The only state to have a state-backed bank, all cannabis industry aside, is North Dakota, so when anyone talks state-backed banks, that's by default the model. Anselm said that various difficulties in regulating such a bank is probably why there aren't more of them in the U.S. There are many ways to look at oversight of a state bank, for instance. Would it be state revenue officials or a state treasurer? Maybe a third-party auditor? In North Dakota, the state government is still the regulator of its state bank, but oversight isn't done by banking and securities officials, Anselm said.

Credit unions are another option for handling the money generated by the cannabis industry that has come up lately, but none have opened yet. In Colorado, people are trying to create a credit union that would serve the needs of cannabis businesses, but it's been problematic so far. Though it's received permission from the state of Colorado, it has not secured permission from federal regulators to open its doors.

Anselm said that no one has asked her office about creating a credit union in Alaska to serve the cannabis industry. But she also said that there are two paths to founding a bank or credit union, one begins with a state charter the other begins by getting a federal one.

According to Anselm, almost simultaneously with obtaining a charter, banking insurance must also be obtained, and that insurance is overseen by federal regulators. Federal laws and policies against cannabis have posed an obstacle to grass-based banks or credit unions, particularly, Anselm said, when it comes to securing deposit insurance. Bankers have also balked for other reasons related to federal law, according to a New York Times story published this week.

At the end of January, a bank in Oregon, a state where voters approved a measure to legalize recreational marijuana, was openly accepting deposits from canna-businesses across state lines, the Denver Post reported. And then a week later, the bank decided to pull back from its plan citing an inability to deal with overwhelming demand for services. Industry insiders told the Post that they suspect the real reason was a request by federal regulators.

Maybe the federal government will change its policies and make the issues of banks and credit unions handling green derived from The Green moot, including here in Alaska.

"Federal regulators are talking about it," Anselm said. "Nobody's dealing with it in a vacuum."

So, the answer here is a no, but you're not the only curious one, Tristan. Stay tuned. Maybe, maybe not.

Have a question about marijuana news or culture in Alaska? Send it to cannabis-north@alaskadispatch.com with "Highly Informed" in the subject line.

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