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LA municipal bank: The ethical choice or a waste of money?

A bank teller counts the stack of Chinese yuan and US dollars at a bank in Shanghai on July 22, 2005.
A bank teller counts the stack of Chinese yuan and US dollars at a bank in Shanghai on July 22, 2005.
STR/AFP/Getty Images

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At a Tuesday meeting, LA City Council President Herb Wesson laid out the agenda for his final term, and included a proposal for the creation of a Los Angeles municipal bank.

The LA Times called the bank the most “unexpected proposal” of the night, one that, according to Wesson’s speech, would involve financing affordable housing, providing loans to small businesses and serving as a place for those involved in the marijuana industry to keep cash.

The bank’s relationship to the marijuana industry could take on particularly interesting implications. Right now, the industry operates primarily in cash, as most banks won’t keep cash affiliated with industry. The Southern California Coalition, a marijuana policy advocacy group, maintains that this makes it hard for those in the industry to rent, as many landlords are reluctant to accept cash. A municipal bank could change all this.

As of Tuesday, over 400 people had signed a petition in support of the bank, arguing that a local bank would stay “accountable to the people,” especially in light of local activists’ push for LA to divest from Wells Fargo. However, some remain skeptical that a bank is what LA should be spending its money on.

So would a municipal bank be worth the cost? Is this the best way to bring the marijuana industry into the fold? Oakland and San Francisco are looking into similar ideas— is a city the size of LA up for the job?


Phoenix Goodman, co-founder of Public Bank L.A., a group advocating for a municipal bank for the city of Los Angeles; he tweets @phoenix_goodman

Jack Humphreville, member of the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates, a group that gives feedback to city leaders on the budget, and a contributor to CityWatch, an online publication covering issues involving the City of Los Angeles; he tweets @Jack90020