How medical marijuana dispensaries handle money is a huge problem nationwide. Just. Plain. Huge. In January, the Los Angeles Times reported that the whole industry is on track to bring in about $7 billion in revenue in 2018, which means the problem’s only going to get worse.
The problem is very simple: though many states, including Hawaii, have legalized the sale of marijuana for medicinal purposes, the federal government still considers the drug completely illegal. That means banks–regulated by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)–refuse to do business with anyone who handles medical marijuana money. And that means the dispensaries that are doing business right now are doing so on a cash-only system. Given the $7 billion in revenue this industry is on track to bring in, that just invites all sorts of trouble.
But now Hawaii state officials say they have a solution.
“The state has secured the services of Colorado-based Safe Harbor Private Banking that will provide limited and temporary financial services for Hawai‘i’s cannabis dispensaries,” says a Sept. 12 news release from Governor David Ige’s office. “CanPay, a debit payment mobile application, will process sales transactions at retail dispensaries. Hawaii’s eight dispensary license holders have agreed to implement cashless operations by October 1, 2017.”
According to the news release, the CanPay app will allow cannabis dispensaries to conduct all their typical financial transactions, as well as set up payroll direct deposit, collect taxes and pay vendors. State officials insist the whole system will be “transparent.” Gov. Ige’s apparently sold on it.
“This new cashless system enables the state to focus on patient, public and product safety while we allow commerce to take place,” Ige said in the news release. “This solution makes sense. It makes dispensary finances transparent and it makes it easier and safer for dispensaries to serve their patients and pay their employees and vendors.”
While it sounds great at first, forcing patients to use a debit payment app forces them to open a bank account in the first place, which a lot of poor people simply haven’t done. This would be very bad, but Teri Gorman, the spokesperson for the Hawaii Educational Association for Licensed Therapeutic Healthcare (HEALTH), which represents the state’s dispensaries (she also works for Maui Grown Therapies), says the dispensaries will still allow patients to pay in cash.
“The few patients who choose not to participate in a program that requires checking account transfers will still be able to make cash purchases in all Hawaiʻi-licensed medical cannabis dispensaries,” she said in a Sept. 13 statement from HEALTH.
Photo courtesy Maui Grown Therapies