Last week, the Treasury Department's Bank Secrecy Act Advisory Group met in Washington, D.C., to discuss a topic important to Washington state. It's debating when and how to allow banking for marijuana growers and retailers in that state, along with Colorado, since both of them have now legalized recreational marijuana.
Banking is considered the biggest challenge facing the traditionally all-cash pot industry. Banks usually won't allow pot entrepreneurs to open accounts, since their profits are still considered illegal under federal law. The Seattle Times reported last week that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew acknowledged the urgency and "serious challenges" facing the industry, but no decision was made.
At the same time, pot-related businesses that don't involve direct contact with marijuana—and therefore don't violate federal law—continue to grow.
One of them is WeedMaps.com, a company that could be called the Yelp of the medical marijuana business. The website allows users to rate and review dispensaries. It was started five years ago by Justin Hartfield, a marijuana user who also has a degree in computer science from the University of California at Irvine.
"I started it because I wanted to find where the medical marijuana dispensaries were in my area," said Hartfield. "It was a very selfish thing for me and my friends, and it turned into a business."
Revenue will reach $30 million this year, according to Hartfield. WeedMaps makes money by charging dispensaries for access to certain information, the ability to respond to reviews and getting professional photos and videos posted. He said he expects sales to grow at least another $6 million next year now that the company has rolled out a new Groupon-style "Deals" option.