Tumwater credit union opens its doors to I-502 businesses

O Bee Credit Union, which was created to serve the former Olympia brewery, has opened its doors to a new industry: marijuana and the producers, processors and retailers borne out of Initiative 502.

And business is off to a relatively quick start, credit union officials said.

Since fall, about 30 businesses, most of them from Thurston and Pierce counties, have established banking relationships with O Bee, depositing anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000 weekly or twice weekly, said Jenni Roberts, chief operating officer for the credit union.

“I’m glad we have been able to serve them,” she said.

Roberts and Lee Wojnar, vice president of marketing at O Bee, both of whom spoke to The Olympian, said the credit union initially was resistant to the idea of doing business with the new marijuana industry because federal law still views pot as illegal.

But after O Bee officials researched I-502, and then pitched a banking plan that won approval from the credit union board, they opened the doors to the industry in September.

Lucid, the first recreational pot retailer in Lacey, does business with the Tumwater-based credit union, co-owner Christian Pang said.

“It made it possible for us to act like a legitimate business,” he said about O Bee’s decision. Before that, one of the few banking options he had was to get a really big safe.

Roberts said the credit union recognized that a pot business with that much cash on hand could be a public safety issue, and they also already had members working in the marijuana industry.

Wojnar also said the decision to work with the businesses is not an endorsement of marijuana.

“We don’t have an opinion on the industry,” he said.

Wojnar, too, said the decision to serve the businesses speaks to what credit union’s have historically done: banking those who wouldn’t otherwise have access to a financial institution.

But it’s not quite as simple as just signing up, Roberts said.

The application process is thorough and can take from three days to two weeks, in which they “pore through all the information that the (marijuana applicants) provided to the state Liquor Control Board,” she said.

They are not lending to the industry, but are offering them deposit services, including checking and savings. Employees of those pot businesses can get their checks cashed, she said.

The “shared branching” service that would normally be available to an O Bee customer is not available to the marijuana businesses because not every credit union has agreed to do business with the industry.

Credit unions statewide that have publicly announced plans to bank recreational marijuana include O Bee, Numerica in Spokane and Salal, formerly Group Health Credit Union in Seattle, said Linda Jekel, director of credit unions for the state Department of Financial Institutions.

DFI director Scott Jarvis added that he’s aware of a “couple dozen” financial institutions in the state that have some exposure to the recreational marijuana industry.

As for medical marijuana, O Bee Chief Operating Officer Roberts said they can’t offer banking services until it becomes more regulated.

O Bee was formed in 1955 and at one time was open only to employees or businesses working at or serving the former Olympia brewery. In the early 1990s, it expanded its membership to include the Tumwater School District and later received a statewide charter, meaning anyone in the state could join.

O Bee today has $195 million in total assets.