The Bank Job: Canadian banks are shutting out the small business cannabis operator. And within that group, notice which people (still) suffer the most

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Even though Canada fully legalized cannabis three years ago basically putting it on the same footing as alcohol, cannabis retailers still can’t get banks to do business with them. For example, The Association of Canadian Cannabis Retailers (ACCRES) says 50 of its 52 members in British Columbia have been denied access to traditional banks.

And as Jaclynn Pehota, executive director of ACCRES, tells us, they’re being denied more than just loans:

We’re not even talking about loans or credit cards. We’re talking about very basic financial services like a chequing account.

Pehota says the stigma of prohibition is still driving this: “I think we can’t underestimate the impact of the stigma. We’re talking about 80 years of prohibitionist rhetoric that has been very prominent in society.

Importantly, it’s not the large cap companies with access to institutional investors that are being frozen out by the banks, says Pehota, rather, it’s the small business owner who’s forced to scramble for start-up capital or the funds needed to stay afloat, or expand, if they manage to get established.

And within the small business sector there’s a certain and all too familiar population who suffer even more – women, and Black, Brown, and Indigineous people.

For instance, a University of Toronto study found that just over 10% of of cannabis business owners are women; only 2 per cent of the owners are Indigenous, and just 1 per cent are Black. The latter two categories being the very same people who suffered the most – were most criminalized – when cannabis was illegal.

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