Yesterday ABN Amro announced that it will increase the costs for a business account for coffee shops by more than 1000 percent. From next year, cannabis shops will no longer pay a tenner per month, but 120 euros. The measure applies to both new and existing customers. That’s about 250.
According to the bank, the increase is appropriate because the risk of money laundering at coffee shops is high. Because ABN Amro staff lose a lot of time with mandatory checks under the Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (Prevention) Act (Wwft), it now places the bill with coffee shops.
‘Precisely transparent sector’
But according to the coffee shops, that risk is not too bad. “The days when large sums of cash were involved in our sector are a thing of the past,” says Derek Kent, chairman of the Platform Cannabis Companies Netherlands (PCN). “Three out of four transactions go through the pin. We are very transparent. This measure is very bizarre.”
Simone van Breda, chairman of the Association of Cannabis Retailers (BCD) and policy advisor at coffee shop The Bulldog, expresses herself a lot more diplomatically. “We have taken note of it and are happy to discuss their motives with ABN Amro.” She even adds that she understands the banks, because they only comply with the law.
Both industry associations emphasize that coffee shop owners are already regularly and repeatedly screened by municipalities for criminal ties, via the Bibob Act. If they do not pass the assessment, the coffee shop will permanently lose its license.
Hash and weed lucrative
And coffee shop owners want to avoid that at all costs, because the sale of hash and weed is very lucrative and licenses are scarce. The Netherlands currently has about 564 coffee shops, 166 of which are in Amsterdam, according to data from research agency Breuer&Intraval, which has been tracking the number of coffee shops since 1999.
Banks would rather lose coffee shop owners than be rich as customers. They are afraid of the judiciary, which can impose heavy penalties if banks do too little to prevent money laundering, a risk that banks consider high at coffee shops. At the beginning of this year, ABN Amro was therefore fined 480 million euros. ING even settled an amount of 775 million euros in 2018.
The banks therefore do everything they can to stay away from the weed and hash. This year alone, coffee shop owners filed several lawsuits against ING, Rabobank and ABN Amro because they could not get a current account. In all cases, the judge ruled that the banks may not refuse coffee shops as customers.
Cash withdrawal limit
But banks are also trying to get rid of the coffee shops through other methods. For example, Rabobank recently introduced a limit on the withdrawal of cash of 8,000 euros per month. That is by no means enough to pay for the purchase of soft drugs, which is still illegal through the back door because of the tolerance policy.
And that’s where we come to the real problem, according to the coffee shop owners. Because as long as the coffee shop chain has not yet been fully legalized, banks will continue to see coffee shops as companies with a high risk of money laundering. “We are caught up in a policy of tolerance,” says Amsterdam coffee shop spokesperson Van Breda. “Legalization is the solution.”
But it’s not that far yet. Despite increasing pressure from a large group of mayors, among others, a parliamentary majority remains against full legalization. However, a trial with regulated cannabis cultivation will start soon. The experiment should show whether it is possible to legalize the cultivation of cannabis.
Parliamentary questions asked
In the meantime, the sector associations are arguing for an exception for coffee shops in the enforcement of the Wwft. According to Van Breda, the Bibob Act is extremely suitable for separating the wheat from the chaff. “Coffee shop owners are also entitled to a bank account,” she says. “Because without a bank account you cannot run a business.”
D66 has meanwhile put parliamentary questions to responsible Minister Wopke Hoekstra of Finance about the decision of ABN Amro. Member of parliament Alexander Hammelburg wants to know from the minister, among other things, how ‘this price discrimination relates to the equal treatment that we all advocate’.
Individual coffee shops with an account with ABN Amro do not wish to respond to questions from RTL Z. The industry is a closed bastion, especially when it comes to money. Strangely enough, it is therefore unknown how much money is involved in the sector. Connoisseurs think it is an amount between 1 and 2 billion euros. So there’s a good chance that they don’t care much for the extra 100 euros per month.