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Frank Gray


You can bank on it: Federal rules a drag on legalized pot sales

I’ve never been to Amsterdam, but if I did go there, I wouldn’t drop into a coffeehouse and smoke marijuana, which is legal there. It’s just not one of the things I do.

The same thing goes for Colorado. If I were to visit there, it would probably be to ride in the mountains, not to visit a marijuana dispensary.

But since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, watching everyone navigate through the unexpected snags that occur when something is legal by state law and illegal by federal law has been almost as much fun as smoking marijuana itself.

The interesting developments started a few weeks before pot became legal when federal agents raided medical marijuana dispensaries and seized a bunch of marijuana.

That pointed to one complication. How do you set up a shop for something that is about to become legal when it is still illegal?

Well, apparently it can be done, but it’s complicated, so complicated that officials were concerned there wouldn’t be enough shops to serve the public once weed became legal.

Indeed, people had to stand in line for hours to get pot early on, but nobody seemed particularly troubled. I guess you just tell yourself not to worry about it because when it’s all over, you won’t care anyway.

Then another complication reared its head. Banks had no interest in providing services to the marijuana businesses.

You can’t blame the banks.

They are governed by federal regulations, and marijuana is against federal law, so they don’t want to touch the pot shops’ money with a 10-foot pole, lest they be accused of money laundering, conspiracy and who knows what else.

That left the pot shops having to deal in cash.

In a way, I can understand why this must be frustrating for the pot shops.

However, as I recall, marijuana has always been a cash business.

Over the years, I’ve known a lot of people who smoke pot, and I’ve never heard of anyone writing a check for pot or using a MasterCard to buy a lid.

So why is everyone fussing about the inconvenience? This is the way it’s always been done.

Businesses are complaining that they have to pay their employees in cash.

I wonder, if you worked for a drug dealer, would you take a check?

I guess when the drug business becomes legitimate, checks become acceptable.

Without checks, though, the shops are hauling huge amounts of cash around. They are paying their taxes in cash, big piles of cash, according to news reports.

The government is still delighted, though. The state expects to bring in nearly $100 million. Curiously, most of that money will go for don’t-smoke-pot campaigns and substance abuse treatment.

That just strikes me as funny.

And the cash that doesn’t go for taxes, rent, employee pay and, conceivably, fringe benefits such as health insurance and 401(k) matches, has to go somewhere.

So as a result, the pot shops have become prime targets for burglars because they’re all loaded – with cash, that is, that banks won’t touch.

It all strikes me as like a scene out of “The Nirvana Blues.”

Life must have actually been simpler when pot was illegal.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.