Wednesday, September 6, 2017
The lurking dangers of money laundering charges have led most U.S. banks to avoid taking deposits from medical marijuana businesses, but one rather unusual Florida bank has decided to go for it. First Green Bank, headquartered in Orlando, is now working with six of the seven Florida MMJ licensees, and has a crew of six employees dedicated solely to marijuana compliance.
Lex Ford, a senior vice president at First Green Bank, said he couldn't think of a competitor in Florida who was willing to try.
"It was interesting at first, when we're telling these high net worth CEOs how little we could let them dictate the process. We expected frustration," Ford said about working with marijuana companies. "But everyone in it understands this is how it has to go."
First Green Bank is a fairly small operation with just six branches, mostly in Central Florida and one in South Florida. It manages about $622 million in assets. The bank doesn't have a branch in Tampa Bay yet. Ken E. LaRoe, a seasoned banker, founded First Green Bank with a specific purpose in mind. The bank firm actively promotes environmental and social responsibility and is known for offering discounts and low-interest loans on "green" initiatives, like electric cars, LEED-certified construction and solar systems. Now it's added cannabis to that list.
"Ken's wife used marijuana as treatment for seizures and it changed her life," said Ford, who describes himself as LaRoe's "wingman." "That's what started us down this path in 2010, about a year after the bank was founded. By 2012 to 2013, we were coming up with a plan and got approvals by 2014."
It's a risky move for the bank, but one that may carry a substantial reward. The next move is up to federal regulators, who last year shut down a Colorado credit union that sought to serve the cannabis industry.