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Selling Pot Legally? Good Luck Opening a Bank Account

Medical marijuana is legal in the state of Colorado. As a result, businesses have been created to grow, package and sell medicinal marijuana. This has created jobs, paid rent, and perhaps most important in 2012 America, they've paid millions in taxes.

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Justin Solomon for CNBC.com
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But one thing most haven't done and can't do is use the bank.

"[Banks are] afraid of losing their FDIC protection," said Kayvan Khalatbari, owner of Denver Relief, one of the oldest medical marijuana dispensaries in Denver. "Therefore, we can't open a bank [account]."

The problem: even though medical marijuana is legal in Colorado, it's illegal under federal law.

But Khalatbari has adapted, taking personal checks, cash and something called cashless ATM's. Some dispensaries have also started to use the add-on app "Square", which can process transactions. (Related: Gallery of Medical Marijuana.)

However, some businesses have resorted to becoming cash-only businesses, which is fraught with frustrations and danger. It's dangerous to have so much cash in one place, but it also makes it next to impossible to pay employees, pay the bills ... even pay taxes.

Others have simply shut down.

"The last straw for us was the banking issue," said Wanda James, owner of Simply Pure, which makes, packages and sells marijuana-infused edibles.

Wells Fargo pulled her account, and she closed her business. (Related Link: Will Marijuana Legislation Impact Obama's Re-Election?)

It is impossible for entrepreneurs or business people to run an effective 'real' business without the ability to have a bank," James said. "It means we have no checking account. We have no debit cards."

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Wells Fargo said in a statement to CNBC:

"In view of the complex, inconsistent legal environment relating to medical marijuana dispensaries, Wells Fargo has opted not to bank these businesses. While medical marijuana dispensaries are legal in some states, they are still illegal under federal law."

But, some in Washington are trying to change that. (Related Link: Making a Case for Marijuana Legalization.)

"I have a bill at the national level — where it needs to get done — and we've also tried to get action through the Department of Treasury and Comptroller of Currency," said Colorado Congressman Jared Polis. "The bill would basically provide legal assurance that banks need."

Unfortunately, the bill has not moved through the House, and President Obama has not supported it.

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"It just makes no sense that a legal state industry wouldn’t have access to normal banking services," Polis said. "That’s not the place to go after it.

"If you don’t like medical marijuana, try to ban it at the ballot box," he added.

Ironically, three states (Colorado, Washington, Oregon) will have ballot initiatives to fully legalize marijuana, taking the opposite approach to the ballot box.

Even if they pass, the banking problem will not go away, but the pro-pot movement won't go away either.

"We believe Washington will come along with Colorado (eventually)," Wanda James said.

By CNBC's Brian Shactman
@bschactman

Tune In: CNBC will be featuring reports on the state of marijuana regulation throughout the day Aug. 23.

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