A handful of cannabis advocacy groups have reported that PNC Bank has shut down their bank accounts. Office branches of The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws were affected. The trend is concerning cannabis advocates, because nonprofit organizations such as NORML do not have direct contact with the cannabis plant.
PNC Bank permanently shut down the MPP’s 22-year-old bank accounts on July 7. The bank explained that an audit revealed that the businesses received money from other businesses that touched the plant directly. The NORML Ohio branch’s bank account was also shut down, without any warning until their cards were declined. All seven of NORML’s regional chapters in Ohio were without any access to money.
PNC Back is the nation’s sixth-largest financial institution with assets around $370 billion. The Bank Secrecy Act of 1970 requires banks to monitor customer’s accounts for criminal activity, although it’s certainly not a crime to advocate for cannabis. Advocates worry that the move will cause a domino effect in the cannabis industry. “It’s a dangerous precedent to for a bank to shut down someone’s account just for the position they advocate,” Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, told USA Today.
NORML’s Cher Neufer was eventually able to open a bank account with Wells Fargo branch about two hours away, after trying five other banking institutions. The MPP was also able to switch banks.
Diane Zappas, director of corporate reputation for PNC said the company “does not comment on customer accounts.” Banking institutions seem to flip-flop on the issue. One analysis found that out of 84 applicants to operate a dispensary in Massachusetts, 29 reported successfully having access to funds in Bank of America, Citgroup, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase. All four banks, however, have made statements claiming that they do not bank with cannabis-related businesses. It’s still unclear if it is the federal government or the banks themselves that are forcing the withdrawal from cannabis advocacy groups.