When you’re setting out for your first Pennsylvania dispensary visit, there are three things you need to bring: your state-issued identification card, your medical card—and cold, hard cash. Many patients are surprised when they get into a dispensary, go to pay and find out that they can’t use their card.
It’s a frustrating condition, but it’s largely due to the interplay between state and federal laws. Keep in mind that some dispensaries do allow you to pay with a debit card, in exchange for a small ATM fee. Some may have an ATM on site. Be sure to call ahead to confirm your payment options before you take the trip to your local dispensary.
Here’s why dispensaries are cash only, and the effect that it has on the industry.
Why dispensaries only accept cash
According to PA Cannabis News, medical marijuana is a cash-only industry because of conflicting state and federal laws. The federal government has yet to decriminalize marijuana—in fact, it’s classified as a Schedule I drug. That means that according to the federal government, it has no known medical use and there’s a good chance users will abuse it.
On the other hand, Pennsylvania allows patients with a valid medical or caregiver card, one of the 23 currently-approved conditions and cash to buy medical cannabis. That’s despite federal law classifying it as a controlled substance.
So why does that mean that you can’t buy marijuana with your debit or credit card? Banks and credit card companies are worried about running afoul of federal banking laws. In other words, “federally regulated commerce systems cannot interact with the cannabis market without risking indictment for money laundering.”
In response, some financial institutions like small banks and credit unions started specifically servicing the marijuana industry. There are very few of these institutions. In 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo rescinding the former direction that only egregious offenses should be pursued, such as selling cannabis to minors. This caused banks and other financial institutions to take a “wait and see” approach—otherwise, it’s unclear whether they’d be prosecuted for money laundering under federal law. It’s no wonder that many dispensaries require cash in order to streamline operations!
Until the federal government either decriminalizes cannabis or provides better guidance on what cases they will and will not pursue, you can expect that most financial institutions will steer clear. In the meantime, some states are finding loopholes and workarounds, like cashless ATMs and mobile payments. Banks are trying to win approval with the Federal Reserve to accept debit or credit payments. Things are moving forward, but slowly.
Carrying around large amounts of cash isn’t just inconvenient and unsafe for patients—it’s also unsafe for those at the dispensaries, tasked with depositing the money each night. However, until we see better federal guidance, you should plan to carry enough cash to cover your purchases.
How cash-only requirements affect the cannabis industry
A lack of flexible payment options doesn’t just inconvenience the customer. It’s a problem for the marijuana industry on the whole. Anytime the government makes it harder for dispensaries to operate, the growers, dispensaries and patients suffer. After all, many people in Pennsylvania rely on medical cannabis in order to treat serious, chronic conditions. Making it more difficult for people to access safe, legal medicine benefits no one.
In addition to inconvenience, the cash-only rule affects how much marijuana is sold. If you’re limited by the cash you have on hand, you’ll likely buy less overall. That either results in having to take more trips to the dispensary, or going without. When you consider the tax implications for the state, the cash-only requirement cuts into state funding.
Am I in danger of prosecution?
Once they realize how state and federal law conflict, patients want to know if they’re in any danger of prosecution. The answer is no, although it’s wise to stay abreast of any new legal developments. Typically, it’s not worth the federal government’s time to pursue individual patients. They are far more likely to go after dispensaries and growers, who may run afoul of federal laws on a larger basis.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should throw common sense to the wind. For example, don’t use or carry marijuana on federal property, as you can be prosecuted for that under federal law. Know the laws about when, where and how you can legally and safely use medical marijuana.
Cash-only dispensaries are an inconvenience, but on the bright side, having access to holistic treatment options is a step in the right direction.
When you need to get or renew a Pennsylvania medical card, work with Cannabis Care Consultants. We’re an approved medical provider and can help streamline your application process.
Tags: Are PA Dispensaries Cash Only