After Ohio became the 26th state to legalize medical marijuana, plans to implement the new law have caused state officials to become concerned about the financial hurdles that lie ahead.
State officials have proposed a “closed-loop” payment processing system that is similar to pre-paid debit or gift cards.
The system would require that MMJ patients and registered caregivers put money into special accounts, using checks, credit cards or cash at state-licensed liquor stores, or a state agency.
The state's proposal comes amid concerns with how money is handled at marijuana companies with almost all of them running with cash-only transactions. These companies turn around and use the cash to pay bills, taxes and their employees and are forced to keep the cash in unsafe places. This endangers employees and customers because most banks, credit unions and credit card companies are reluctant to do business with them because marijuana is still illegal under federal law.
While dispensaries, cultivators and other marijuana companies will have accounts they could use to buy products and pay bills.
If the decision passes the Ohio Department of Commerce – which is responsible for establishing the system would likely eat into the state’s budget, just to implement it. This may cause the state to potentially bring added fees and expenses to licensed medicinal businesses and possibly register patients and caregivers.
As more states legalize marijuana the number of banks that are willing to wage risk by taking these companies money have risen significantly from 51 in March 2014 to 301 in March 2016 according to federal data. If more banks become more lenient with marijuana companies, the “close-loop” system could be a temporary but costly solution.
“We are just beginning the process to set up Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program, and no decisions around a closed-loop payment system have been made at this time,” Kerry Francis, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Commerce, said. “Also, there haven’t been any decisions around banking regulations.”