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Security Risks with Cannabis Payments Today, What You Need to Know

Security
Compliance
February 2, 2023

The cannabis industry is in evident need of more secure payments for dispensaries. Currently, federal laws prohibit dispensaries from accepting customers’ credit and debit cards, leaving most businesses to rely on cash payments. 

Dedication to compliance and consumer security in both our digital world as well as our physical world is more important than ever. Cannabis businesses have largely been cash-only enterprises in the past. However, any time a cannabis retailer carries a large amount of cash, it is put at a high risk of theft – both inside and outside of the store. Digital payments are on the rise, both in-store and online, providing options for consumers. Choosing a payment partner that prioritizes both your security and your shoppers' security is key to success. 

From a compliance perspective, you want your payment provider to:

  • -Show truthful and transparent information in receipts and online.
  • -Have up-to-date accreditations in compliance such as SOC II, ACAMS, and NACHA.
  • -Stay off the credit card rails.
  • -Work closely with, and ideally get the blessing of, state regulators.
  • -Monitor those attempting to use their platform for bad acts like fraud and money laundering.

Recently, Aeropay completed the SOC II compliance audit on our first attempt. It demonstrates a commitment to information security. The audit is completed on-site to ensure that sensitive information is handled in a compliant and secure manner. Aeropay offers a secure way to pay for cannabis via bank-to-bank transfers – creating a safe space for customers and businesses.

Dispensaries are easy targets

Any business that is known publicly to have large amounts of cash on hand is vulnerable to theft. Because most regulated retailers in the cannabis industry cannot access mainstream banking services, point of sales transactions are notably done in cash, and funds are not always immediately transferred to a bank account. While some dispensaries allow customers to use cannabis debit card processing at checkout, these businesses are likely utilizing cashless ATM payments, which violates most payment processors’ policies. 

In April 2022, budtenders in Washington were held at gunpoint before thieves stole cash and cannabis from a storefront. These days, dispensaries are frequent targets. In fact, there has been such an increase in burglaries that a marijuana advocacy group released a ‘Robbery Preparedness Guide’ to help cannabis retailers implement a comprehensive security strategy. 

Beyond these recommended practices, dispensaries often depend on complex security systems. Loud alarms, floodlights, and videotaping measures certainly help deter theft – however, they are costly for business owners, and are not 100% effective. 

Not all dispensaries have bank accounts

‍What financial partner do you work with and are they following all the rules and regulations surrounding cannabis banking?

Cashless payment providers must partner with a reputable and compliant financial institution. What many people do not realize is that cannabis banking can be done compliantly if the financial institution is following the relevant rules and regulations, but it is a heavy lift.

Make sure your provider is working with a reputable bank or credit union that has experience in this space and takes compliance seriously.

Even in places where cannabis is legal, financial institutions are not always able to provide bank accounts for dispensaries. Without a national law framework, not all banks can handle such a compliance-intensive industry. So, legal cannabis businesses are forced to store large amounts of cash on their own.  

For this reason, the most common type of theft in dispensaries happens behind the counter by employees. It is estimated that 90% of products and funds are stolen by staff members, MJ Biz Daily reports. A payment system that deals mostly in cash hinders day-to-day cannabis operations since business owners cannot easily trace their store’s cash flows. With credit card payments, there is a clear record of money being transferred to the business’s account. Cash isn’t as easily recorded, so there are plenty of opportunities for employees to take advantage of its flawed nature. 

Capital loss due to human error

Because cannabis is a cash-intensive industry, budtenders face numerous challenges while keeping track of their capital. Owning a cannabis business comes with a heavy tax burden. In the state of California, there is a $154.40 tax per pound of flower, a 15% excise tax, and a 7.25% sales tax –not including any existing local municipal taxes or fees. Managing income and putting aside funds for taxes is not an easy task when dealing with the physicality of logistics. Additionally, paying these taxes in cash can become a tricky process – especially because city buildings closed during COVID-19. Budtenders are forced to find reliable money order systems, which can be time-consuming and dangerous. 

Outside dispensaries, danger follows

When it’s time to deposit the cash somewhere safely, the transportation of funds is a high-risk process. Even if budtenders or cannabis suppliers take discreet precautions, such as traveling in unmarked or armored vehicles, robberies can still occur –for instance, this supplier got robbed while refueling gas. 

In states where cannabis deliveries are legal, cash transactions create an additional layer of risk for employees and customers alike. With the exchange of goods and cash happening outside the walls of a business, both the delivery person and the customer can be easy targets for burglaries. What can begin as a cannabis transaction, can quickly become something much more sinister

A safer option: ACH payments with Aeropay

ACH payments or bank transfer payments can truly put the cannabis industry at ease. Aeropay has developed a solution to provide secure transaction processing for dispensaries because it’s partnered with the leading compliance-based banking program, Safe Harbor, a leading compliance-based banking program for cannabis businesses. To make cannabis payments safer and more efficient for businesses and customers, Aeropay has done the necessary due diligence to ensure cannabis payments are legal, digital, and seamless. This means budtenders can use a bank account to store and manage their funds carefully. 

In January of 2023, Aeropay completed our first System and Organization Controls (SOC) 2 Type II audit, performed by Sensiba San Filippo LLP. The SOC 2 information security standard is an audit report examining controls relevant to the trust services criteria categories covering security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality, and privacy. It has rigorous compliance requirements. Some of what the SOC 2 certification covers are system monitoring, data breach alerts, audit procedures, and forensics. The main benefit is that it demonstrates our company maintains a high level of information security. 

Aeropay is an immediate payment system that allows funds to go from one bank account to another. Customers can safely pay for their favorite products using their mobile devices, and dispensaries don’t have to harbor large amounts of cash in their storefronts. Not only does this create a safer atmosphere, but it’s also a more efficient way for customers to shop. 

Aeropay also provides clear records for business owners to keep track of payments, which thwarts employee theft. Integrating ACH payments into retail operations allows businesses to keep thorough records, further legitimizing the rapidly growing cannabis industry by preventing money laundering and tax evasion. 

Ultimately, ACH payments eliminate the need to transport large amounts of funds in any type of vehicle, and it creates a safer method of payment for customers who are getting their cannabis delivered to their homes. 

The cannabis industry deserves a secure payment system that keeps the business owner and the customer safe. Aeropay’s mission to provide a fully transparent cannabis payments system will help dispensaries get the same levels of protection that more established industries are intrinsically provided.

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