Customers who reek of cannabis smell are being refused service at a barbershop in Greeley, Colorado. A sign on the door reads “please do not come in if you smell like marijuana, there are families with kids who don’t want to smell it. This is a business not your house, thank you.”
Owner Hugo Corral says about half his customers reek of pot. He says it is disrespectful, especially with children and families patronizing the shop. Pot may be legal, but he does not want the cannabis smell in his store. The odor has been so strong at times that customers have asked if someone is actually smoking in the store.
Corral has been accused of discrimination, but since his refusal of service is not based on reasons like race, religion, gender, or other constitutionally protected categories it is not illegal.
Colorado is one of 20 states, plus Washington DC, who have legalized pot, passing Amendment 64 last November making the limited sale, possession and growing of cannabis for recreational purposes legal for adults 21 and over. Colorado’s Amendment 64 includes language that says it shall be unlawful for any person to openly and publicly display marijuana. In the Amendment’s definitions of openly and publicly it specifies both sight and smell. It does not specify whether the cannabis smell needs to originate during the actual act of smoking.
Pot businesses have been in the news recently because of their problems with getting banks to accept their money. An interesting quality of cash is that it absorbs smells, so it is hard to hide the source of a bag of cash that came from a cannabis dispensary. Pot shops tend to be cash-only businesses, so all they have to work with financially is currency. But it is difficult to get a bank to accept their cash when the smell makes it so obvious where the cash came from.
Cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drugs, a category is defined as most dangerous, and includes such drugs as heroin and LSD. Since Schedule I drugs are still illegal under federal law, banks do not want to provide services to marijuana dispensaries, fearing charges of money-laundering, and federal penalties and sanctions.
The pot merchant may store their money in a Tupperware container filled with air fresheners to mask the cannabis smell, hoping to be able to make a deposit. The shop may end up taking bags of money to grocery stores for money orders which they take to the bank to try to open an account without the problem of the smell.
In February the federal government issued rules allowing banks to legally provide financial services to state-licensed pot businesses, but banks are still nervous about accepting smelly cash.
Frank Keating, president and CEO of the American Bankers Association, says that banks appreciate efforts by the Department of Justice to help resolve the dilemma, but the regulations do not alter the fact that possession or distribution of marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and that banks that provide support for illegal activities face risk of prosecution and sanctions.
In the meantime, Hugo Corral’s Greeley barbershop may be one of the first private businesses to openly announce a “no cannabis smell” policy, but others may follow as more states legalize pot, and regulations remain gray. The banking problem will have to play out in a higher court.
By Beth A. Balen