Arizona company looks to fix banking issues faced by medical marijuana industry

Marijuana dispensary businesses facing banking issues

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - In a business filled with green, dealing with dollars isn't always easy.

"Our banking relationships historically have been strained," said Aari Ruben. He runs Desert Bloom, a cannabis store on Tucson's east side. He's been in the business for the last six years and said he's always felt burned by the banks.

"They've routinely closed our accounts over the years citing a simple business decision, on their part," said Ruben. "I believe it's part of their risk management models."

His banking woes are felt by many in the medical marijuana industry.

In many cases, they're forced to do big transactions with cash only.

"It can be an inconvenience and it's a public safety concern to be transporting that much cash," said Ruben. He explained he has to make a long drive to Phoenix with a large sum of cash just to pay his taxes.

That's where one Arizona company wants to make a change.

Alta, a Phoenix-based company, was just given the okay from the Arizona Attorney General to start rolling out a new way to pay.

Dispensaries would be able to exchange cash for digital tokens and use them for some transactions.

“At that point they’re able to pay their taxes, utilities and any other vendor in form of tokens instead of cash,” said Sarah Wessel. She’s the COO of Alta. “After they’re done and they’re ready to sell back their tokens, they simply sell them back and its proceeds from the sale of a digital commodity, and now they can be banked anywhere.”

Though some dispensaries have been supportive of the idea, Ruben remains hesitant.

"They all seem to be workarounds to the bigger issue we face," said Ruben.

That bigger problem he said may lie with banking as a whole, where dispensaries like Desert Bloom say they feel they’ve taken a hit.

Alta will officially start the test process of the digital tokens in a couple of weeks.

They hope to then expand outside Arizona in the coming months.

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