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DENVER — Colorado’s marijuana businesses have a cash flow problem: Too much cash is flowing in and they’ve nowhere to put it.

Most banks refuse to work with marijuana businesses, which are legal in Colorado but remain illegal at the federal level. Now, a new credit union aimed specifically toward the cannabis industry hopes to offer a solution.

The Fourth Corner Credit Union hopes to open its doors within weeks in Denver, offering to accept cash deposits and to permit members to make electronic transfers for payroll and rent, and to buy supplies.

“We are on the one-yard line,” said Mark Mason, an attorney advising the credit union’s nine founders.

Colorado’s banking regulators granted Fourth Corner a charter on Nov. 19, and now the union is waiting for the Federal Reserve to issue it a master account number, which would give it access to the country’s electronic banking system. The credit union believes that it will get the account number without a fight because the Federal Reserve must give out numbers to organizations that have been granted state charters.

And despite marijuana remaining illegal on the federal level, Colorado’s banking regulators say they’re respecting their state’s laws by approving Fourth Corner. The credit union still needs insurance and to sign a lease before opening.

“I’m a pro state’s rights guy, and in Colorado we have legalized,” said Chris Myklebust, the Colorado commissioner of financial services. “When I pull a $20 bill out of my pocket, and look at the front, it says it’s legal tender for all debts public and private. Legal businesses in a state should be able to use the currency of the nation.”

Federal prosecutors set the credit union in motion when they issued what’s known as the Cole Memo, authored in summer 2013 by deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole. The memo sets out eight areas where federal prosecutors and investigators will focus their limited resources on enforcing federal marijuana laws, including keeping pot out of the hands of kids, preventing it from being diverted outside states that have legalized its possession, and “preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels.”

By Trevor Hughes
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