Oakland-owned public bank would serve cannabis industry

The city of Oakland has taken the first step toward opening its own public bank, a step that could allow cannabis businesses to access the same kinds of banking tools available to other small businesses.

As it stands right now the cannabis industry has very little access to banking options, making it largely a cash and carry operation. But, Oakland leaders are looking at changing all that with a bank owned, operated by, and aimed at serving the needs of, the city of Oakland.

Cannabis businesses have already sprung up around Oakland, but most don't have access to the financial services available to other small businesses.

Banks are backed by the FDIC, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and it can be difficult for cannabis businesses to deposit money from a business technically in violation of federal law.

Now Oakland City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan wants to see if it would be possible for the city to create a public bank. "Creating a local bank in the city of Oakland could benefit lots of local businesses," said Kaplan.

"But, it's also a great match for the needs of our growing cannabis industry to have access to safe banking."

Oakland residents we spoke with said it's an idea who's time has come.

"What you've seen in Colorado millions and billions of dollars in cash and it creates an environment where there's more crime," said Rachel Martin.  "I'm glad to see the city is stepping up and responding to the needs of it's community."

City leaders say cannabis businesses would not be the only beneficiary. Kaplan says banks have traditionally under-served communities of color, and a local bank could back local businesses and homebuyers. "A public bank would give us a bank that's sole purpose is benefit the public," said Kaplan.

"So you wouldn't have the kinds of shenanigans we've seen with corporate banks abusing customers and not making loans available in some of our communities.

That's something Tonya Tarver would welcome. "To have an Oakland based bank, a Bay Area based bank, or something that's like a grassroots bank that's going to really really stand by the people," said Tarver. "The people that pour into that bank, the bank should pour into those people."

We called about a dozen cannabis businesses, none would talk on camera. One dispensary did say it would welcome a traditional banking option.

Oakland's City Council is set to take up the issue again November 29th.