(Seth McConnell, Denver Post file)

Employees in pot industry plagued with bank, housing problems

Banks and other financial institutions not only reject businesses in the legal marijuana trade for accounts, but are increasingly doing the same to those associated with the industry, including employees and suppliers.

The trail of problems includes rejected bank accounts and apartment applications, closed retirement and investment accounts, and trouble getting mortgages, according to interviews with those affected.

In several instances, brokerage houses have even told their agents to close accounts of clients with even a remote affiliation with the marijuana business.

“Simply by association they canceled my account,” said Donna Hayward, a 56-year-old part-time bookkeeper in Seattle who works at Solstice, a marijuana grow operation. Her retirement account was recently closed by Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.

“It’s really horrible how it happens,” Hayward said. “Now I have to lie about where I work so it won’t happen again.”

Morgan Stanley did not respond to messages and e-mails seeking comment.

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An increasing number of people who work in or with the marijuana industry are facing the same types of scrutiny as businesses that have for years complained about the inability to get — and retain — banking services. Many prefer not to speak publicly for fear of branding themselves for further problems.

“When something is illegal for 75 years, and then suddenly it’s legal, there are a lot of loose ends to work out,” said Jim Marty, a certified public accountant in Longmont whose clients include marijuana businesses.

Anecdotes abound of workers who find it hard to even lease an apartment because rental applications require them to reveal the source of their income.

“As an MMJ (medical marijuana) business owner, I try to enjoy the freedom of not hiding what I do for a living, so I am always upfront about what I do for work,” said Murphy Murri, whose Forefront Healthcare in Boulder is a management company that controls dispensaries and grow operations.

“While I have never grown cannabis at home and have always complied with no-smoking rules per any landlord’s lease,” she said, “it is often clear that most landlords aren’t exactly willing to take my word over another applicant who doesn’t admit to being a cannabis user or whose income isn’t derived from cannabis businesses.”

Being candid, she said, caused two potential landlords to offer leases, but only if she would “pay one year’s rent in advance of moving in.”

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>The difficulty also comes in the form of added scrutiny, where a bank or financial operation peppers an applicant with a never-ending stream of questions or requests for additional information.

Justin Ross Hartfield, dubbed the “first venture capitalist of the pot industry,” said he was tossed around recently by a number of landlords when he and his wife tried to rent a house in Orange County, Calif.

“I got turned away a lot,” said the founder of Weedmaps.com, a widely used online resource that allows medical and recreational pot users to locate and review dispensaries.

“Every landlord Googles their tenant, a good idea, but bad for me because they see I’m a CEO of a medical-marijuana-related company — even if it’s two or three levels removed,” he said.

The rejections, he said, were clearly based on his marijuana connection, not his ability to pay — which a personal annual income of more than $1 million made even clearer.

“Sometimes they’re straight up, say they don’t respect it, don’t think it’s right and they’ll not rent to me,” he said. “Most times not, though.”

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CPA Marty said one of his clients who tried to obtain a mortgage was barreled over with questions regarding an investment in a marijuana dispensary.

“It was a minority ownership, yet the lender was asking lots of questions through the broker,” Marty said. “The inference was if it were a majority share, he’d not have gotten the mortgage.”

Accountant Bernie Taillon in Greenwood Village said several employees of the marijuana shops he represents have had bank accounts closed — just like their employer’s accounts were closed.

“They’ll go into the bank with cash, since their employer has no bank account to pay them,” Taillon said. “The cash smells, bankers start asking questions, and a day later, the bank manager says they won’t take their deposits anymore.”

David Migoya: 303-954-1506, dmigoya@denverpost.com or twitter.com/davidmigoya

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This story was first published on DenverPost.com