Cashless Cannabis Payments Now Available in Vermont at One Medical Marijuana Dispensary

Kathryn Blume 12 Dec 2018

New App Eases Electronic Transaction Woes for Cannabis Industry

An ongoing challenge for the cannabis industry is that, with the feds maintaining the illegal status of cannabis, the banking industry is still deeply reluctant to process transactions. This forces many in the industry to operate exclusively in cash – which can be both inconvenient and dangerous.

However, for some, help is on the way in the form of a debit app created specifically for the cannabis industry called CanPay. In Vermont, Grassroots Vermont has recently implemented the technology and is now able to accept payments via an application (similar to ‘Venmo’) instead of relying on cash.

Grassroots Vermont General Manager Devan Walsh said that the technology is something that patients have been requesting:

“I honestly feel like on the overall, our patients are gonna be very excited. They get feedback every day. Many, many, many times a day about how patients wish they could use an electronic option because a) they would either spend more money or, they feel like there was things here that they didn’t have, they didn’t plan for. So, I think that this will open up a door for folks.”

Vermont’s other medical marijuana dispensaries do offer different kinds of electronic payment options, but Grassroots Vermont is the first cannabis business in Vermont to implement the CanPay technology vs. a debit or cash system.

Reached by email, Jody Vona, Controller at Champlain Valley Dispensary and Southern Vermont Wellness explained how the electronic payment options at the state’s two largest dispensaries.

“We do provide an electronic payment solution at our dispensaries. There are a few options, but we have chosen to use a debit processor whose fees are low. The choice was made to use this vendor as the access and functionality was the greatest for the majority of our patient base. It is an in store debit processor only. There are other solutions we are in discussions of implementing for our delivery sales. Many of these solutions work via an application on a phone. However, some of our patients don’t have access to the internet or technology so we are mindful of that fact and always looking for compliant solutions that can reach/benefit the most patients.”

“We’ll be the first Vermont dispensary taking electronic payments. So, we’re pretty excited.”

In this audio interview (transcription below, audio above and on SoundCloud and iTunes) Heady Vermont’s Eli Harrington chats with Grassroots Vermont’s Assistant General Manager Devan Walsh in greater detail about the CanPay app and about their recent entry into the world of electronic transactions.

Eli: Tell me the good news. You guys are gonna be able to take online payments at the dispensary which is a change, right?

Devan: We are, yeah. We’ll be the first Vermont dispensary taking electronic payments. So, we’re pretty excited.

Eli: Now, how are you guys able to work this out? Because I know it’s been a challenge for everybody in medical.

Devan: Yes, so we found a resource called CanPay. And they use ECH Movement instead of credit-debit movement so be able to coordinate the payment. So it acts like PayPal and Venmo in how it coordinates the payments so you would directly– it would come directly from your savings account, current account and come to our bank account within two days.

Eli: Wow, but you can still use any kind of credit or debit card, right?

Devan: No, so the way that it works is you have to utilize the CanPay service to do it through. So what you’ll do is– I did it this morning. I registered myself. I had to put my routing number and my checking account number in a secure website. They take and they authorize you and then, you have an actual- an app that you use on your phone.

So when I come into the dispensary to make a purchase, I pull up the app and it generates a single use QR code that we would then put in front of a tablet that the company provided to us and the tablet will scan the QR code and that will send the payment through, and it’s a single use QR code.

“I honestly feel like overall, our patients are gonna be very excited.”

Eli: So this is like Venmo and the cash out pretty much.

Devan: Exactly, yep, exactly.

Eli: So, this is something that is probably, theoretically, going to be used nationwide. Are there any other places that are already using CannaPay? Like if I’m signed up for this in Vermont, can I take this to a Vegas dispensary and pay with that?

Devan: You can indeed. We have store numbers 1350 on our boxes of our tablets. I think that we are– they said that we’re the first to use them in Vermont. But I think you have 15 States at least where they’re using it right now. So yeah, I’m going to be going out to San Diego in February, so I might be able to use that when I go there as well, so.

Eli: Bummer for you. You got to go to– You got to leave Vermont in February to go to San Diego. It sucks, eh? So, you know you mentioned for people and I think people are pretty accustomed to using Venmo, using cash app kind of. Have you guys talked to any patients about this?

What do you think the response is going to be, because I can see it going two ways, right? Like where people in the cannabis community are used to using these apps in a little bit more secrecy or encrypted messaging but it’s also connecting your bank directly to cannabis. What are the concerns and the questions you’re getting from patients and what are you anticipating the feedback will be?

Devan: We expect that with anything like you said, there’s always going to be people that are pretty uncomfortable just because technology in their bank accounts tends to make people uncomfortable. I know especially for me, like I don’t have a ton of experience with Venmo, but I do have experience with PayPal, which makes me feel more comfortable. But if I hadn’t used either service, I probably would need to think about it more.

I honestly feel like overall, our patients are gonna be very excited. They get feedback every day. Many, many, many times a day about how patients wish they could use an electronic option because a) they would either spend more money or, they feel like there was things here that they didn’t have, they didn’t plan for. So, I think that this will open up a door for folks. Just to note that you can only have it do 200 dollars worth a day, each patient can go through and ask for a higher limit.

But they limit currently everybody is 200 dollars through this app. So, we’re hoping that it can be a little bit of a buffer zone for folks that maybe want to have – purchase other things that they don’t have the money for or they can even split their payment and do 200 dollars via the electronic and pay for the rest in cash or check, so.

Eli: Very cool. And is this something that will be available for delivery as well?

Devan: Yes. That’s the coolest part. In my opinion. Apple does not allow for applications through campaign because of the cannabis industry but any Android phone will. So, it provided us with two tablets that we can bring with us. We just need to be able to connect to someone’s Wi-Fi at their house to be able to finish a transaction. So, if a patient was regularly wanting to pay electronically with us, they just have to sign us up through their Wi-Fi and then every time we’re there, we can just scan and go and that should work.

Eli: This is gonna be an Android only–

Devan: Yes.What I did on my iPhone though is I created a– If you use Safari to go to the website (and they actually have the instructions on the cards we’re giving out to folks) you can create like a faux app on your home screen with this- with Safari. And that’s kind of what I did for mine, so I have an app on my phone. Even though it’s an an Apple, you can go straight to the CanPay website.

Eli: You can in effect really use this with both. It sounds like you know, with the delivery if that’s less cash that the delivery driver is carrying around–

Devan: Exactly. Yep. And I think especially folks, we get a lot of feedback that people have to go to the ATM or go somewhere for– to be able to receive a delivery and a lot of folks are in the middle of nowhere. So, this will really help them not have to be you know, leave their house to accept a delivery when they didn’t wanna to leave the house to begin with.

Eli: Very good. This all sounds super, super exciting.

Devan: Did Chris give you the website? It’s www.canpayapp.com. You asked how long we had been working with them?

Eli: Yeah I mean I assume every– This is kind of the golden goose for everybody in the medical world. I mean, is this just like a new innovation? Do you think that this is where the industry is heading until federal probation changes?

Devan: Yeah, until Visa and MasterCard are willing to let transactions happen through our businesses, I think this is how it’s going to go. We honestly found out about it less than a month ago and immediately jumped on the application process that we have to do through our bank to kind of connect with them. That was incredibly quick. I think we got the answer back from them within two weeks and then we waited for the equipment. Tomorrow, we’re setting up and trying it out and going live on Wednesday.

Eli: Wow. And so I don’t need to report this part necessarily, I’d like to though. But you guys do the State Employees Credit Union, right?

Devan: I believe so, yep.

Eli: VSECU, okay.

Devan: Yeah. And CanPay is really excited about that. They’re going to put out on social media that we now place in Vermont. They’re looking forward to getting into every state. So, just like you said, you can go anywhere with your phone and be able to electronically pay wherever this is offered.

Eli: Now, do you know specifically if they’re in– Maine is only New England state with reciprocity. Do you know if they’re anywhere in Maine now?

Devan: I don’t know. I have to say I haven’t gone and checked it out, I should. They have the strong social media. So they’ll be tweeting about that sort of Facebook thing about us tomorrow.

Eli: All right. Well we better hurry up. We better hurry up and write this thing.

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