As the cannabis industry continues to fend off the pandemic, a crime wave and the wild costs associated with existing, it may soon have to add getting quarters to the list of challenges.
They can still get their hands on seven-gram sacks of flowers no problem, but the coin change required for the cash-heavy industry is starting to prove an issue for some due to a new order from the Federal Reserve. This is all compounded by the cannabis industry’s lack of access to proper banking services. And with the costs associated with being in the pot business, especially during permits and licensing in a pandemic, every penny is so important.
What it comes down to is if change runs out totally, dispensaries will be forced to take it out of the consumers pocket as they round off to price products in a manner that puts the out-the-door price at a whole dollar amount. With much of the industry lacking access to real debit and credit merchant services, the additional costs added on to consumers would add up to a huge dollar amount quickly.
One dispensary manager told L.A. Weekly she had six different banks reject her, pointing to the Fed’s “Strategic Allocation of Coin Inventories” that went into effect on June 15. When the Fed announced the move, it noted the pandemic has had a major impact on both the supply chain for coins and the way they circulate.
“In the past few months, coin deposits from depository institutions to the Federal Reserve have declined significantly and the U.S. Mint’s production of coin also decreased due to measures put in place to protect its employees,” the announcement read. The Fed said it’s working to get out its existing coin inventory and maximize production as soon as possible.
Despite the pandemic, the Fed said one thing banks can do to help replenish the coin supply is lift any current restrictions they have on rolled coin deposits. But the Fed noted even with all the measures they are taking to rectify the situation the near term could be tough.
“Although the Federal Reserve is confident that the coin inventory issues will resolve once the economy opens more broadly and the coin supply chain returns to normal circulation patterns, we recognize that these measures alone will not be enough to resolve near‐term issues.”
The week Jeanna Smialek and Alan Rappeport of the New York Times penned a piece on how the shortage is impacting things like parking meters, vending machines, and laundry. While surely decimating to those fields, at least they are seeing progress on moving away from cash. Paying to park or for a Diet Coke with a credit card is far from a wild idea. That’s simply not always the case when it comes to pot purchases.
The process of getting a debit system and the accompanying financial services is sketchy at best. Sure, there are places that you can go in and drop a few extra bucks to use debit or credit. But much of the time those establishments have likely gone through a dozen bank accounts over the years and nearly the same amount of merchant services.
One of the things that hurts the progress is if some company does blow up and a big chunk of dispensaries start using them for transactions, it puts a giant red flag on the company. Eventually what they’re doing gets picked up and they may lose the ability to do transactions. If they do get hit, sometimes they just close up shop and create a new business entity and try again.
We asked the National Cannabis Industry Association what kind of problems could result in if the change shortage turns into a more industry-wide problem.
“Even though coins may seem like a small matter, the cumulative impact could be huge,” Morgan Fox, NCIA’s media relations director told the Weekly. “Customers don’t want to see their purchase costs rounded up during these tough economic times or be forced to find exact change elsewhere, and businesses can’t afford to round down on every transaction.
And for Fox, all of that is obviously compounded by the industry’s lack of banking access and options. “For an industry that is largely forced to operate in cash due to lack of banking access, this kind of unforeseen problem could be the small cut that slowly bleeds some businesses to death,” he said, “And once again, we have an issue facing retailers nationwide while the cannabis industry is still left out of federal relief aid.”
As California’s underground pot economy continues to blowout its legal counterpart, Fox believes you could see such problems at dispensaries as simple as getting quarters driving legal consumers back to the unregulated market if it gets bad enough.