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When Will Cannabis and Marijuana Dispensaries Be Able To Accept Card Payments? It's Complicated.

July 25, 2022
Rachel Ludwig

Your recent trip to a marijuana dispensary might have left you wondering “do dispensaries take credit cards?” Perhaps you were able to use a debit card, but your dispensary called it a “cashless ATM” charge and there were odd details about the payment. Due to federal regulations, conventional banking options are extremely difficult for dispensaries. The good news is that there is another option for cannabis payment processing with the help of bank-to-bank transfers, via Aeropay. Customers can simply use their phone as a secure, convenient payment method. 

Credit cards have distanced themselves from cannabis industry

Not only is marijuana illegal at the federal level because of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), but it is also categorized as a Schedule I substance, meaning it is regulated with the most stringent laws. These laws require financial institutions to keep detailed records when it comes to managing a dispensary’s account. Any suspicious activity at all on the account must be flagged, but the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) keeps the definition of said suspicious activity very vague, putting a lot of viability on banks. These laws are in place to prevent money laundering, and dangerous manufacturing and distribution of illegal substances, but banks and dispensaries alike have a hard time navigating the strict framework. 

So, most banks and large payment processors, such as VISA, avoid working with dispensaries at all to avoid prosecution. This is frustrating for the retailers in the 47 states that have legalized cannabis in some form — the plant is legalized for recreational use in 19 states, and medical use in 36 states

There is hope on the horizon thanks to the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act). The MORE Act would accomplish three key things: remove marijuana from the list of drugs regulated by the CSA, eliminate the criminal penalties associated with cannabis and remove past federal convictions for cannabis. The MORE Act passed the US House of Representatives in April 2022, and now waits to be voted on in the Senate. When the MORE Act becomes a law, it will be a huge step in decriminalizing cannabis and will help dispensaries partake in mainstream business activities – such as banking. 

The debit card “cashless ATM” payment is not ideal

Some dispensaries offer cashless ATM payments with debit cards as an alternative to cash payments and THC credit card processing. This might appear to be a helpful substitute when you’re out of cash, but a closer look at this method reveals a few red flags. First, dispensaries must round up to the nearest denomination of $10, ultimately costing customers extra fees. Additionally, dispensaries will leave their business name off of the bank statement because these payments could get flagged by FinCEN for anti-money laundering.  Ultimately, misleading banks about cannabis transactions is a considerable risk for customers and the dispensary. 

Do dispensaries have gift cards? Even gift cards can put dispensaries at risk

Dispensary gift cards and visa gift cards are another payment method that can sound alarms for money laundering activity. As long as marijuana is illegal federally, every dollar must be accounted for and recorded precisely. 

Solution: Cashless, contactless, convenient Aeropay

Thankfully there is a way to avoid paying in cash at a dispensary, with bank-to-bank transfers ( ACH payments) using Aeropay. Aeropay is able to offer secure payments for dispensaries through its partnership with Safe Harbor, the leading compliance-based banking program for cannabis businesses and an affiliate of Partner Colorado Credit Union. All of the due diligence has been done by experts who want to offer a solution for customers, dispensaries and banks.  Aeropay works with I Heart Jane to go beyond the storefront and offer customers the ability to shop online, order delivery, and even tip delivery drivers. 

Next time you stop in your dispensary, look for the Aeropay QR code or talk to your budtender if they offer Aeropay cannabis payments.


Rachel Ludwig

Digital Marketing Manager
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