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Why Missouri banks want access to the state' marijuana business inspections

Closeup image of someone's hands. The right hand is holding a jar that they are turning over, dropping two green marijuana buds into the palm of their left hand.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Marijuana flower buds are one of the most popular sales items across stores in Missouri.

The federal government requires banks to inspect every marijuana facility and licensee. Since Missouri's DHSS already does that, banks want them to share that information so they don't have to duplicate effort.

Missouri’s marijuana businesses have extra obstacles when it comes to getting help from financial institutions.

With recreational marijuana now legal in Missouri but still illegal at the federal level, it creates more hoops to jump through for both banks and businesses to meet federal scrutiny.

Missouri lawmakers have an opportunity to streamline that process by allowing state agencies to share the marijuana licensing information with banks and credit unions, said Jim Regna, CEO and founder of Triad Bank in St. Louis.

The federal government requires financial institutions to inspect every facility and licensee to make sure they’re legal and reputable — something the Department of Health and Senior Services, which is charged with overseeing the state’s marijuana program, already does, Regna said.

“In lieu of doing our own inspections,” he said, “it’d be very, very helpful for us to be able to get this information from the Department of Health and Senior Services to make the program fluid and keep us in compliance with federal regulators.”

For the past two years, Regna has testified in support of legislation that would allow DHSS to share things like background checks and inspections that make sure the businesses don’t sell to minors. He did so again on Tuesday afternoon for a House bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Chad Perkins of Bowling Green, and previously for a Senate bill by Democratic Sen. Steve Roberts of St. Louis.

The Senate bill passed out of committee earlier this month.

Roberts has sponsored the bill since 2021 and says it has passed out of the Senate committee every year but always stalled after that.

Roberts said the information from DHSS on licenses is required for financial institutions to comply with the U.S. Department of Treasury’s analysis to combat money laundering and other financial crimes.

“This bill also permits agencies involved to share information,” Roberts said, “so that the banks or credit unions may ensure the business is a legal cannabis business, paying taxes to the state of Missouri.”

Perkins said on Tuesday the bill is about giving banking institutions “some protection” if they chose to provide services to marijuana businesses.

“If you were questionable about Amendment 3 last year, you would think that these banking industries have a right to a little more transparency,” Perkins said. “So I would think you would really want to support this.”

The bill has support from the Missouri Division of Finance, the Missouri Bankers Association, the Missouri Credit Union Association, as well as MoCann Trade, which represents marijuana professionals.

“I’m told to get anybody to agree on anything at times in the state can be difficult,” Regna said. “But to have all those parties in favor, I think speaks to the bill and the public safety concerns that they have.”

One of the things that has surprised Regna, he told committee members, was how often the marijuana licenses are changing ownership. It makes it more difficult to keep up with inspections they need to keep in federal compliance.

“It really does make it important for us to be able to get the information on who the owners are,” Regna said, “and get the background checks and make sure that no one nefarious is getting the businesses.”

In addition, he said marijuana businesses are having to pay for these inspections twice — from DHSS and again with the financial institutions.

There are few banks providing services to marijuana businesses currently in Missouri, Regna said, but he wishes there were more.

“The marijuana industry is only as strong as the banks and the other support around it to make it successful and safe,” he said.

Rep. Michael O’Donnell, R-St. Louis, who chairs the Financial Institutions Committee, agreed.

“There’s a lot of folks in this room and in this building that don’t care for marijuana, but it’s here,” O’Donnell said, “and to kind of lift back the veil a little bit should give folks a little more comfort to know that you’re getting the information you need.”

This story was originally published by the Missouri Independent.

Rebecca Rivas covers civil rights, criminal justice and immigration for the Missouri Independent. She has been reporting in Missouri since 2001, most recently as senior reporter and video producer at the St. Louis American, the nation's leading African-American newspaper.
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