Hawaii First State to Push for Cashless Pot Economy

Hawaii Banking Cannabis Now

The state is betting that the dangers of electronic banking through a single app and credit union are lower than the dangers of cash-flooded dispensaries.


The Governor of Hawaii announced Tuesday that the state intends to make its medical marijuana program cashless at the end of the month.

Governor David Ige, alongside state Financial Institutions Commissioner Iris Ikeda, announced the plan that they’re calling a “banking solution,” but some are noting that putting the Hawaii cannabis industry’s eggs all in one basket could lead to a financial crisis. Nevertheless, the plan is moving forward and kicking off on Oct. 1.

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

An accompanying statement also noted the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs’ Division of Financial Institutions was specifically thinking about the safety of patients, employees, dispensaries, and the community as a whole when they came up with this cashless plan. The department sought a cashless solution to address concerns about increased crimes committed against cash-based operations.

The plan is for Hawaii dispensaries to begin accepting payments through a debit payment app called CanPay, which is connected to a Colorado credit union.

“This solution for the dispensaries to conduct banking services in an entirely cashless method would directly address many concerns we have and problems encountered by the dispensaries,” said Commissioner Ikeda.

However, in reality, dispensaries have been proven to make neighborhoods safer, regardless of what form of payment they take.

The cashless system will not be mandatory yet and you won’t need to own a smartphone, but the state is pushing hard to get everyone on board. Ikeda also said the state is working on a plan to sell prepaid cards at the dispensaries for folks without a checking account, which seemingly defeats the whole purpose of all of this.

Henry Wykowski, one of the nation’s leading cannabis business attorneys who happens to specialize in taxes and banking, told Cannabis Now that the main reason the banks are staying away from cannabis is because of anti-money laundering regulations meant to target people like terrorists.

“The unfortunate consequence for everyone, including the government, in not allowing cannabis dispensaries to use the banking system is that it creates a large and difficult to control cash economy,” Wykowski said.

Back in his early days at the Department of Justice, Wykowski’s focus was on helping to move the underground economy above ground.

“And the way you do that is simple: Once you put it in a bank, you can follow it anywhere. But if you don’t allow it to put money in a bank, you can’t control it at all.”

We asked Wykowski, especially pending the outcome of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment’s extension, whether or not putting all of the Hawaiian pot industry’s eggs in one basket was a good idea and if it could provide real fix for the cash-flooded industry.

“It’s a bad idea not only from the just the exposure in the industry perspective, it’s a bad idea for the state of Hawaii and the governor,” he said. “It sounds like it’s not a well-thought-out position.”

Wykowski said the reason he feels this way is it that a lot of banks have thought in the past they found a solution to dealing with deposits from dispensaries — only to find out a few months later down the road that they were wrong.

“What happens now is the governor sets this whole thing up and then that credit union is then told by the FDIC or Department of the Treasury that you can’t do this. Then where does that leave all of the dispensary operators, as well as their patients? It’s very, very risky in my opinion,” said Wykowski.

Becky Dansky, legislative counsel at Marijuana Policy Project, shared similar concerns to Wykowski with the Associated Press. Dansky warned that relying on one specific system could expose the state in the event of a hacker attack or a company going out of business.

“I’m hearing a lot of rumors they’re not going to prohibit cash but they are promoting the idea as a way to strongly encourage people not to use cash,” Dansky told Cannabis Now. “If they’re not going to mandate all purchases happening through CanPay, they should really clarify that.”

According to Dansky, the message getting out there is blurry. “If it’s intentionally kind of vague because they want to encourage people to not use cash, then that could have the unintended consequence of patients who can’t or won’t use Canay may turn to the illicit market. If people are going to have that option it should be made clear to patients.”

Dansky said she understands the horror stories on TV about the cash-flooded industry, but that she thinks Hawaii is different because you’re talking about a personal medical program that has had home-grown for a long time. With the limited number of Hawaiian patients — who are only able to visit the dispensary on their home island — Dansky doesn’t expect there to be much of a difference in the amount of cash in dispensaries compared to other retail operations on the pricey islands.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s more, I just don’t think it will be significantly more,” said Dansky. “So I think in some ways this a solution in search of a problem. They’re not going to need armored trucks taking the days profits away, this is a much smaller amount of cash that we’re talking about.”

When asked whether or not she thought Jeff Sessions would take advantage of this opportunity (if the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment is not extended) to target the specific credit union that Hawaii is planning on using, Dansky said she was not worried.

She believes no matter what happens with Sessions, President Trump will stick to his campaign trail promises of not going after the industry.

TELL US, do you think cashless is safer for cannabis dispensaries?

Jimi Devine has been involved in cannabis reform since 2005 and has worked in the Berkeley cannabis industry since 2009 when he moved to California from Lynn, Massachusetts. Currently serving as Staff Writer here at Cannabis Now, you can also find his writings on cannabis products and policy in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe, The Hill, The Chronicle of High Education, GreenState.com, Marijuana.com, 7x7 Magazine, and in Ed Rosenthal's most recent book This Bud's for You. Jimi has a BA in Journalism and Media Studies from Franklin Pierce University.

1 Comment

  1. Eric Dailey

    September 14, 2017 at 10:10 pm

    Pre paid cards is still using the federal banking system. Many people are capable of growing their own meds. No greedy growing operations or dispensaries selling uncured low end medications. Stop monopolizing the industry. Quality over quantity. Grow your own. Peace

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