Center for Legal Cannabis

Washington State's largest credit union opens account for zoning researcher

UPDATE JAN 18, 2013 @6:40PM — At 4 p.m. today I received a call from a BECU employee who said that, upon reviewing my account application, they decided to open an account for me. Ecstatic, I went in and, sure enough, opened my account, assisted by super helpful folks.

Blake explained that they need to be vigilant in complying with federal banking laws, which disallow banks to deposit money from dispensaries, pot growers and similar businesses that handle cannabis. Sometimes their employees err on the side of caution, which can be obviously frustrating for folks in my position. At the end of the day, their risk assessment department looked it over and decided I was an acceptable risk.

I am extremely grateful to BECU for responding to me in a timely manner, for treating me like a neighbor and a customer, and ultimately for making me feel like I was heard — a deeply satisfying emotion.

SEATTLE, JAN 18, 2013 — Most banks refuse business from medical marijuana dispensaries and businesses that flout federal law. Two months after Washington voters legalized marijuana, the state's largest credit union is going a step further and refusing to do business with companies who support Washington State's upcoming legal pot industry.

BECU Loves I-502

Ben Livingston discovered the policy on January 17 when he opened a business account at Boeing Employees Credit Union. Livingston makes maps to visualize zoning regulations found in I-502, which forbids the state from licensing marijuana stores near schools and other places children congregate.

After a BECU employee opened an account for his map-making business — called the Center for Legal Cannabis — a manager stepped in and put the kibosh on the new account. "He told me the credit union will refuse accounts for any company whose work could support legal cannabis businesses the state intends to license later this year," Livingston said.

The manager explained that the policy was "an internal thing" and a recent creation. When asked to see the policy in writing, the manager printed a small section of internal policies that state BECU will not open accounts for medical marijuana dispensaries or businesses. Asked how such language applies to a zoning researcher, the bank manager said that any business with "cannabis" in its name, or whose work supports the legal cannabis industry, will have their accounts closed at BECU.

Livingston, who is also founder of the Cannabis Defense Coalition activist group, pointed out that the nonprofit has banked at BECU for years without issue. "The manager responded by threatening to close the organization's accounts if I wanted to press the issue."

For now, Livingston says, he just hopes to cash a check from Brown Paper Tickets — entrance fees from a zoning lecture he gave two months ago. He created a web site to document his experience, and is asking BECU to clarify its position. "It is unfair for BECU to punish members who wish to help the state implement I-502. It's frustrating too, but at the end of the day I'd still like to bank with a credit union."

Sean Cecil, Attorney Canna Law Group