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Pot store threatens bank loan

Top Shelf Wellness, a medical marijuana dispensary at The Shoppes at Exit 24 in Phoenix, has been a model tenant, its landlord says.

Alan DeBoer, owner of the shopping center located next to the freeway, was surprised when his bank contacted him recently to say that his loan was in jeopardy because he’s leasing a space to Top Shelf, which opened as a dispensary in May 2015.

“They want me to throw them out,” said DeBoer, a local businessman and former mayor of Ashland. “The dispensary has been a great tenant.”

DeBoer said his bank told him that a federally insured bank can’t make a loan on anything related to a medical- or recreational-marijuana business.

“Since the loan is on the shopping center, the bank says that loan is at risk,” DeBoer said.

DeBoer, who declined to name the bank, said he planned to meet with bank officials this week to try and resolve the situation. DeBoer said he’d never heard of anyone being approached by a bank over this kind of issue and said it is something that could affect other landlords.

DeBoer said he would caution other landlords to consider the potential impacts to their loan if they lease to a marijuana business.

He said there is a disconnect between Oregon’s legalization of marijuana and the federal government’s continuing classification of pot as a Schedule 1 drug, putting it in the same category as heroin.

DeBoer said he has reached out to local legislators and has received the most help from U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley’s office.

Merkley spokeswoman Courtney Warner Crowell said all sorts of banking and legal issues have popped up as marijuana becomes more mainstream in Oregon.

A security firm in the Portland area had its bank account shut down because it was providing its services to dispensaries, Crowell said. The U.S. Postal Service cautioned newspapers against mailing papers that contained advertising for marijuana products.

Crowell said Merkley’s office is aware of DeBoer’s plight and is looking for answers.

“We’ve tried to figure out if there is any way we can help,” she said.

Merkley’s office has attempted to get banking reform for marijuana businesses to address these sorts of issues, she said.

“We are going to start hearing more and more of these stories pop up across the state,” Crowell said.

Wade Hall, owner of Top Shelf, said, “In this industry, we are faced with hurdles like this constantly.”

He said he pays payroll, state and federal taxes. In January, he will begin paying a state sales tax on cannabis. In addition, his business is heavily regulated by the state, which requires extensive testing of marijuana products. With all these regulations to follow, he still can't open a bank account in Southern Oregon.

“I think it’s time, on a federal level, that we get things straightened out,” Hall said.

He said his business has not received complaints from the city or from neighboring businesses in the shopping center.

Hall said this was the first time he’d heard of a landlord being approached by a bank that was concerned about renting out a space to a marijuana-related business.

“It’s definitely a hairy situation,” he said. “It’s one I would rather not be involved with.”

Crystal Goding, relationship banker with Bank of the Cascades in Medford, said, “I don’t know of any bank that would do any lending or banking activities with a medical marijuana dispensary.”

Goding said the type of issue about the shopping center loan hasn’t come up at her bank, but if it were brought to her bank’s attention, it could be an issue.

If a bank lent money to someone who in turn leased a space to a marijuana business, then it might fall into more of a gray legal area, Goding said.

“It would really all come down to what his loan documents say,” she said. “It would be up to his bank.”

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @reporterdm.

Top Shelf gave away free samples when recreational marijuana first became legal on July 1. Mail Tribune file photo
Wade Hall, owner of Top Shelf Wellness Center, leases a space for his marijuana dispensory from Alan DeBoer, owner of The Shoppes at Exit 24 in Phoenix. Mail Tribune file photo