Where Pot Entrepreneurs Go When the Banks Just Say No

The small burgundy satchel bore the hallmarks of rugged craftsmanship: top-grain leather, double stitching on the straps. It was wider at the bottom, sort of like an inverted funnel, and two buckles secured the flap. Babak Behzadzadeh knew exactly how he might use the bag when he saw it hanging in a shop in Playa del Carmen, Mexico: It could be his bank.

Behzadzadeh owns two businesses in Denver. Avicenna Products makes potent marijuana concentrates. Next door, Green Sativa grows marijuana, which it sells directly through its own medical dispensary and store. By last spring, after just 18 months in operation, they were generating $250,000 to $350,000 in monthly sales, all of it in cash. During the workday, the satchel sat on a file cabinet in Behzadzadeh’s small office at Avicenna, stuffed with tens of thousands of dollars that funded the two operations.

One weekday afternoon last March, Avicenna’s manager, Alex Elsberg, a bearish, bearded man with blue-tinted sunglasses perched on his crown, was prepared to drive a 100-mile circuit around Denver’s north suburbs, where he would deliver concentrate to one dispensary, collect a payment from another and then, on his way back,…

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