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Coin Shortage Lays Bare Cannabis Industry’s Payments Problem

“We started running out of quarters, and suddenly we started to feel an impact”

It will be quite some time before we understand the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. But history tells us one important thing: during times of crisis, how an industry is regulated often affects its ability to adapt and survive or even gain advantage.

Take payments and banking. While most brick-and-mortar retailers have been instituting contactless transactions to meet changing customer expectations and prevent the spread of the virus, cannabis dispensaries in the U.S. are still largely operating with cash only. They cannot accept major credit cards because marijuana is illegal under federal law. And now they’re facing a nationwide coin shortage.

With the coronavirus crippling economic activity in the U.S., the circulation of coins has dropped off significantly. Hardest hit has been restaurants, laundromats, convenience stores, arcades, and supermarket chains—businesses that rely on the flow of paper currency and need to make change. Yet unlike dispensaries, these businesses can more easily accept alternative forms of payments. 

“We still can’t operate like other businesses, unfortunately,” says Jerry Millen, owner of the Greenhouse of Walled Lake, a fully licensed medical and recreational cannabis dispensary in Michigan.

“First we ran out of pennies,” Millen says of the coin shortage. “We didn’t want to gouge the patient or the customer, so we rounded [transactions] down, which didn’t cost us a whole lot. But then we started running out of quarters, and suddenly we started to feel an impact.”

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