Umpqua Bank to close local company’s account for confusion over hemp

By Oliver Lazenby

It’s easy to find hemp yarn, seeds, clothing and other hemp products at Wal-Mart, Fred Meyer and other stores across the United States. Enter hemp in Amazon’s search field and you’ll get 20 pages of hemp products ranging from dog chews to “Hemp Oil-Cannabis Oil” to natural hemp cord to moisturizer.

That’s why Blaine-based natural clothing company Rawganique owners were so surprised when they were told that Umpqua Bank would no longer work with them because they’re in a “marijuana-related industry.”

The bank is closing Rawganique’s account by the end of the month because the company “operates a line that is an excluded line of business at Umpqua Bank,” the bank said in a letter to Rawganique received on October 13, Rawganique CEO Qeanu Wallner said. The bank’s decision gives the company little time to find a new bank, which is crucial to its operations.

Rawganique’s hemp products include clothing, hempseed oil, hempseed butter, hemp protein powder and rope.

Under federal law, the hemp plant, which shares a common ancestor with marijuana but is bred to maximize fiber production, is a schedule 1 drug. Hemp products, however, are legal.

“We are federally insured, so we are bound legally to comply with federal law,” said Eve Callahan, a spokesperson for Umpqua Bank. “We are prevented from banking with companies that grow cannabis. Hemp is the result of growing cannabis.”

Wallner said Rawganique does not grow hemp or manufacture hemp products – that’s done by contractors who are mostly in Europe. Rawganique designs and sells its products.

But that’s not clear to Umpqua Bank, Callahan said.

“We are working with them to understand their business as closely as we possibly can,” Callahan said. “If the hemp is manufactured out of the country somewhere, that’s fine, we can continue to bank with them as a customer. But if they have any role in growing it, then that qualifies under that Controlled Substances Act.”

Rawganique’s website states their products are “home-made in USA, Canada, Europe by Rawganique,” and that “At Rawganique, we have been growing, weaving, knitting, and sewing organic cotton, linen, and hemp clothing products, footwear, bed, bath, and home products since 1997.”

Hemp is a schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substance Act, but the act excludes the “mature stalks of such plant, fiber produced from such stalks, oil or cake made from the seeds of such plant.”

The disruption blindsided Rawganique, Wallner said, and the company is scrambling to find a new bank. The company, which sells online, can’t process sales or pay its suppliers and employees without a bank account.

“It’s extremely disruptive. Livelihoods are at stake,” Wallner said.

On October 30, Umpqua Bank will restrict the company from using its bank account, and they’ll close it on November 7, 2017, according to the letter it sent Rawganique.

Since getting the letter, Wallner has visited some banks that said they could work with Rawganique and one that would not take his business.

“In the beginning, they all say, ‘yes, no problem.’ I don’t know what comes in two weeks when they’re processing all the paperwork,” Wallner said. “We might not find a local one easily, which is not good because we want to do business locally as much as
possible.”

Rawganique started banking with Umpqua in the summer of 2015 and the company didn’t hide the fact that it sells hemp
products.

“It was a very happy relationship,” Wallner said. “We loved the people at the Point Roberts branch where we started out, and of course, they have no say in these matters.”

Rawganique started in 1997 on Denman Island, B.C., moved to Point Roberts in 2015 and then relocated to Blaine in August 2017. Rawganique hasn’t had banking issues before, but local marijuana business lawyer Heather Wolf said she isn’t surprised by the timing.

“The banks are paranoid because no one knows what Jeff Sessions is going to do,” said Wolf, an attorney with Brownlie Wolf and Lee in Bellingham. Sessions is the US attorney general. “The whole landscape for marijuana and hemp is just unknown right now.”

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