Legal cannabis is one of North America's fastest-evolving industries; however, federal banking laws have forced dispensaries, producers, and other businesses that touch the plant to operate on a cash-only basis.
It's estimated that as many as 60 percent of cannabis companies don't have access to banking services, which means they aren't able to write cheques, access bank accounts, or accept credit cards. As you can imagine, all that cash floating around creates some major security risks, as well as organizational headaches and increased potential for funds being improperly diverted, and for human errors.
Entrepreneur Lamine Zarrad left a job with the United States Treasury Department to develop Tokken, an electronic payment and banking system for marijuana businesses.
Zarrad tells the International Business Times that he identified a much-needed service few startups were equipped to address.
"There was a vacuum that had to be filled by an entity that was small enough to be agile, but also had the intellectual capital to address these regulatory hurdles," he says.
Digital banking for the cannabis industry
Tokken lets consumers with a special app pay for marijuana purchases electronically: these funds are transferred to Tokken, which keeps bank accounts for each client, who can then use those these funds to pay others in the Tokken system.
"We want to be a digital banking institution that provides banking services to cannabis industry," Zarrad tells the International Business Times. They plan to beta-test the system at two banks and 10 Denver-area marijuana businesses this summer.
Companies supplying payment kiosks and point-of-sale (POS) software to marijuana businesses have also been doing brisk business: C4Ever Systems, Cyber Kiosk Solutions, GrowLife and Medbox are just a few of the providers attempting to meet the challenge of handling a large volume of cash payments while also complying with state regulatory and accounting requirements. Some marijuana businesses have opted to skip dealing with banks altogether, instead opting to accept Bitcoin.
Pretty soon, the demand for these industry specific solutions could be a thing of the past: if federal legislation advances, or marijuana is rescheduled, cannabis businesses will be able to head to the bank like everybody else. In the meantime, however, entrepreneurs like Zarrad are cashing in.
"These people deserve to have access to banking," he tells International Business Times . "It's what gets me up in the morning."