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Marijuana retailers find banking help

Updated: 
September 14, 2017 - 12:05am

HONOLULU — State officials are urging Hawaii dispensaries to use a cashless system for medical marijuana sales to prevent crimes targeting cannabis retailers and their customers.

A Colorado credit union has opened accounts for the two dispensaries currently operating on Oahu and Maui and will service all eight licensees by Oct. 1, Gov. David Ige said at a news conference Tuesday.

Most financial institutions have refused to work with medical marijuana dispensaries because the drug is still illegal under federal law and the banks are regulated by federal law.

The state hopes the move will help to legitimize the fledgling industry.

“Now we don’t feel like crooks,” said Big Island farmer Richard Ha, who is opening dispensaries in Hilo and Kona next year. “The bigger issue is that it’s better for the whole community. It lowers the cost, it’s safe for our customers and the public at large, and it makes it just simpler. It’s a step forward. Where we were kind of in the shadows is not a good place to be.”

Ha’s bank informed him about a year ago that he would have to close all his accounts “mainly because I had too much of a high profile.”

“We weren’t even doing things at that point, but it was just the fact that people would recognize I was involved in the industry,” he said.

Safe Harbor Private Banking, a division of Partner Colorado Credit Union, has agreed to provide “limited and temporary financial services” to Hawaii dispensaries, Ige said, adding that he hopes local banks will eventually welcome business from the cannabis industry. In addition, the state solicited CanPay, a debit payment mobile app that connects to any checking account to allow patients to pay for the drug using their cellphones.

“That is huge news. We have an account with this credit union and are really happy about it,” said Brian Goldstein, owner of Manoa Botanicals, one of three Oahu dispensaries. “We’re going to be able to offer a cashless solution for those patients that want to use a cashless payment system, but we’re not going to require it. We’ll continue to accept cash from any customer who wants to pay cash.”

The cashless system will allow pot retailers to set up direct deposits for employees, as well as pay taxes and vendors, making transactions more transparent.

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