Cannabis has been legal for almost 3 years yet retailers say they're being shut out by banks
By Joel Ballard
As the third anniversary of Canada's legalization of cannabis approaches, retailers say they continue to struggle to find access to basic financial services from banks.
Industry experts say decades of stigma, as well as international pressure, continue to plague the fledgling industry, forcing shop owners to dig into their savings to open their small businesses and limiting the sector's growth.
Charles Varabioff, owner of Kingsway Cannabis, says finding a bank to take on his business account was next to impossible.
"I tried every single one of them. And every one [of the banks] was 'no, no, no, no, no,'" he said.
Branch managers, he says, would tell him the cannabis industry is too high-risk.
"High-risk? It's no more high-risk than a casino, a bar, or a restaurant," said Varabioff, who also owns a shop in Grand Forks, Alberta.
"We're legal, licensed, regulated by the city and the government. Canadian banking needs to get on board with this industry."
The Association of Canadian Cannabis Retailers (ACCRES) says 50 of its 52 members in B.C. have been denied access at traditional banks, and have turned to local credit unions instead.
"We're not even talking about loans or credit cards," said Jaclynn Pehota, executive director of ACCRES.
"We're talking about very basic financial services like a chequing account. My members are still struggling, three years post-cannabis legalization in Canada."