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Bank Shuts Down Marijuana CEO's Personal Account

Banking is tricky when it comes to legal marijuana.

Banks can accept money made in the marijuana business, but most won’t because it’s still illegal under federal law.

But another trend is emerging: Banks are shutting down the accounts of those who work in the industry, even if those accounts aren’t used to hold marijuana money.

Priscilla Vilchis is the CEO of Premium Produce in Las Vegas. She holds marijuana business licenses in Nevada and California. 

Recently, she received a call from her attorney telling her that her bank had decided she was a "high-risk client" and the bank would like her to close her accounts.

The accounts in question were not connected to her marijuana businesses in any way, Vilchis said. She said the accounts were for other businesses and she is very careful not to use banks for her marijuana businesses.

Vilchis said the whole thing started when a CEO of the bank saw her on TV advocating for legalized marijuana.

“This was just very unfair," she said. "They saw me on television advocating for the marijuana industry and said, ‘Oops, she’s a high, big player in the industry. Let’s just ask her to leave and we don’t have to deal with this burden.'”

Vilchis was able to move her money to another bank but she wanted to bring awareness to the problem and to the overall problem of banking in the marijuana industry.

“I believe it’s now time to get the federal government on board to allow us to take all of these cash proceeds that we’re receiving and properly put them into bank accounts,” she said.

Currently, banks that allow marijuana businesses to use their services do so at their own risk. And pot businesses that use those services do so at their own risk to, Vilchis said.

She said that dispensaries that take debit cards, for example, could get into trouble if the bank decides it is too risky to continue to work with them.

Vilchis runs a cash-only business, which means she must pay bills, paychecks, and taxes in cash.

Besides making businesses targets for criminals, an all-cash business means it can be harder for state and local governments to track sales and taxes, Vilchis said.

She said that if pot businesses were allowed to use normal banking services the state would be able to track everything from "seed to sale," making it easier to track employee taxes and sales numbers. 

“At the end of the day, everyone wins,” she said.

Vilchis is not concerned that the federal government will decide to shut down marijuana businesses in states that have already legalized it, and she believes it is just a matter of time before the federal government and the banking industry catches up.

“I think the banks are doing what they’ve been told years ago and that their banking regulations are just outdated," she said.

Priscilla Vilchis, CEO, Premium Produce

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Kristy Totten is a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada. Previously she was a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly, and has covered technology, education and economic development for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She's a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.