Providing financial services to marijuana-related businesses is a lot like serving other high risk groups. Financial institutions must first understand their appetite for risk and then take all due precautions prescribed under state and federal law in serving them, according to consultant Deborah Crawford.

"I'm not sure serving MRBs is any worse than banking payday lenders," Crawford, president of Gettechnical Inc., a Baton Rouge, La.–based consulting firm, said to participants at a Feb. 13 session. "If you're going to serve [payday lenders] or other higher-risk customers, you might find a place among MRBs that you can live with."

Currently, 20 states and the District of Columbia allow some form of legalized marijuana sales and four of them, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, allow the sale of recreational marijuana. But even credit unions and banks operating outside those states run the risk of exposure to funds deposits and other financial activity from MRBs participants operating at some level of that business, Crawford said.

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