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California Officials Consider State-Run Bank To Serve The Pot Industry

SACRAMENTO (CBS) -- The banking and marijuana industries could become unlikely allies in California's green rush.

Kimberly Cargile, CEO of "A Therapeutic Alternative," would like to see that happen. Her company is one of California's first marijuana dispensaries.

"It's very difficult to get a bank account for anyone in the cannabis industry," she says. "So the entire industry is a cash-based industry."

That's because banks and credit unions have been unwilling to do business with the cannabis industry here. While medical marijuana is legal in California, it's still a federal crime.

"This industry has been living in the shadows for decades," says State Tax Board member Fiona Ma. She called a meeting at the State Board of Equalization offices in Sacramento Friday, to discuss the challenges facing the cannabis industry in the banking arena.

Ma believes legal marijuana businesses should have the same access to banks as any other businesses. She would like to see the creation of a state-run bank where cannabis businesses could make cash deposits and electronic transfers to the Tax Board.

Currently dispensaries are forced to bring in bags of cash to the State Board of Equalization, the only agency that accepts them.

"That's what they have to do," says Ma. "They come to our office, drop off cash to pay their taxes and we walk across the street to pay their money."

Ma says not only is the cash-only system dangerous, it's also hurting state coffers. California is losing out on millions of dollars in sales tax.

"After studying this issue for the last six months, I really feel that the federal government is not moving or interested ... so I really feel like California needs to step up," she told the Sacramento Bee.

According to the Sacramento Bee, a state-run bank for cannabis businesses would be the first of its kind in the nation.

In 2016, Californians will vote on whether to legalize marijuana in the state. Colorado and Washington have already legalized recreational marijuana, and they are grappling with the same challenges with the banking industry.

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