Deal makes pot dispensaries no longer strictly cash operations

Traditional banking has not been an option for companies dealing in the federally prohibited substance

The two operating medical marijuana dispensaries in Hawaii — including one on Maui — and their patients have been operating on a cash-only basis, but a “banking solution” has been forged with a Colorado-based credit union, Gov. David Ige announced Tuesday.

Because marijuana remains a federally prohibited substance, banks in Hawaii have been reluctant to service the eight licensed dispensaries — which include two on Maui. That has meant that transactions for patients and dispensaries have to be done in cash, not check, credit or debit cards or electronic transactions, said Teri Freitas Gorman, spokeswoman for Maui Grown Therapies, which has been selling medical cannabis by appointment at its Maui Lani facility since mid-August.

The state has remedied the problem by securing the services of Colorado-based Safe Harbor Private Banking, which will provide limited and temporary financial services for the state’s cannabis dispensaries, Ige and state Financial Institutions Commissioner Iris Ikeda announced Tuesday.

CanPay, a debit payment mobile application, will process sales transactions at retail dispensaries through electronic account transfers. There still will be no credit or debit card transactions, Freitas Gorman said.

The arrangement makes Hawaii the first state in the nation to have a cashless dispensary system, Ige’s news release said. Having an account at Safe Harbor will allow dispensaries, such as Maui Grown Therapies, to make payments to vendors, set up direct deposit for employee payroll and collect and remit taxes from their account.

All transactions will be transparent because purchases at retail dispensaries occur through the mobile app, and other transactions will be recorded by the financial institution.

Ige said in the news release that the state’s licensed dispensaries have agreed to implement cashless operations by Oct. 1, and Ikeda extolled the virtues of “entirely cashless” transactions. Freitas Gorman described the 100 percent cashless statement as “aspirational” and that Maui Grown Therapies never intended to be 100 percent cashless. While the majority of patients may want to pay through the app, there will be some who will want to make transactions in cash, she said.

In addition, there are no regulations requiring licensed dispensaries to be fully cashless, Freitas Gorman said. She added that Maui Grown Therapies is pleased to have the option, though, and thanked Ige and Ikeda for their help.

She was not sure when the CanPay app will be operational; Maui Grown Therapies is in the due diligence stage of the application process.

“This is really a great help” to dispensaries, Freitas Gorman said, noting that running a cash-only business can get complicated.

“This new cashless system enables the state to focus on patient, public and product safety while we allow commerce to take place,” Ige said. “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.”

The Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs Division of Financial Institution sought the cashless option to address concerns about increased crime against cash-based operations, the governor’s news release said.

“This will establish a safe environment for medical cannabis-using patients and businesses to operate,” said Ikeda. “It is our hope that a Hawaii-based financial institution opens accounts in the future. For now, we are appreciative of the Mainland credit union for stepping in.”

Maui Grown Therapies and and Aloha Green LLC on Oahu are the only two operational dispensaries. Attempts to reach officials with Maui’s other licensed dispensary, Pono Life Maui, on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Maui Grown Therapies continues to sell only flowers and manages inventory by appointment, but the dispensary hopes to begin selling derivative products like oils “very soon” after a lab is certified, said Freitas Gorman.

She said a number of patients are waiting for marijuana derivatives because they don’t want to smoke the flowers. The cost of the flowers begins at $19 a gram.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.

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