Paying for cannabis, in general, is still a major issue, no matter where or who you are
There are also two aspects to this problem, particularly for patients. The first is paying for the cannabis in the first place. The second is being able to afford it at all. For now, both banking services and insurance coverage are off the table in the United States because of the Schedule I classification of cannabis. In other places, patients still struggle with the second issue.
Americans, for example, cannot pay for cannabis using bank or credit cards. Germans can pay with their bank cards for medical cannabis at pharmacies. The problem is that at the moment prescription costs are running at about $2,000 a month. And while Canadians can both pay and order online, as well as get home delivery direct from licensed producers, cost is still a huge issue in a world where insurance coverage is problematic.
While some U.S. dispensaries and legal cannabusinesses are finding creative ways to establish bank accounts with those institutions willing to work with them, this is not a benefit that remits to patients. In fact, quite the opposite. Banking fees for dispensaries who can get banking services sometimes run in the several thousands of dollars a month. These costs are obviously passed on to clients.
This in turn has multiple knock on effects. It means that retail cannabis is more expensive. It also means that delivery services are out – or at least harder to access. For patients who cannot drive in the first place, this is a double blow. How does one get access to a cash machine to pay a driver who must take a cash payment for the delivery?
Adding final insult to injury, even in those places where home-grow is legal, even paying for seeds in online shops in jurisdictions where this is legal is also frequently problematic. Why? The rules of international credit cards all follow American banking law. So does Paypal, despite Peter Thiel’s other very public investments in the cannabis industry.
Might there be a way to save time and money for patients by exploring another payment system? Especially one that would facilitate if not verify compliant medical deliveries. And further, could loop in dispensaries and growers? If not allow patients to at least get seeds delivered so they could grow their own medication at home?
Digital Payments & Cryptocoin
Imagine for a moment an online service where legitimate patients could submit prescriptions, order online and pay for their cannabis or seeds with another kind of currency. Why can’t there be an Amazon of cannabis? After all, dispensaries can now advertise online. You can even find them via convenient dispensary maps. Why couldn’t they just accept a cryptocurrency to pay for their products?
This is actually a world that has already been conceived. In the black market, this was the idea behind the now notorious Silk Road. In the legitimizing market, however, there are several initiatives right now to try to set up a separate cyber “cannabis coin.” Or even to use Bitcoin to buy cannabis. However none of these solve any of the problems they have been designed to solve, particularly for patients. Beyond the banking and payment issues (and there are several), it is still illegal in many jurisdictions to send narcotics through the mail.
Could A CyberCoin Work To Pay For Cannabis?
This idea has been around for a while. There is at least one professional networking group now holding its third annual conference on the issue this year. However the many problems still inherent in the whole conundrum are still present.
The first is that this idea is about to get banned completely – at least in the United States. (See pending legislation in Washington State.) On top of this, even if allowed to operate on a state level, such entities (as well as the downstream businesses like dispensaries who participate) present tempting targets in a world where federal asset forfeiture laws apply, even without an increasingly menacing Justice Department. As of June, this situation was so bad that PWC Bank even dropped the account of the Marijuana Policy Project. The group does not sell cannabis. But they do receive support from registered cannabis producers and dispensaries. The problem on the professional side mushrooms from there.
Ultimately, unless willing to operate totally in a cyber currency world, dispensaries and growers would have to convert customer payments to regular banks. And at that point, there is no guarantee that banks would accept them. The banks themselves would also be liable under asset forfeiture laws.
Without the participation of either growers or dispensaries, patients are left without a place to spend any cyber “coin” they might have purchased to solve the problem. Whatever that is. They are still left, in other words, in the same place.
Outside the United States, establishing a separate payment system for medical cannabis makes no sense. Patients can already use the banking networks. It doesn’t matter, whether cannabis is for sale in dollars, euro, shekels or Bitcoin. If it is not subsidized, in this case, by health insurance, many patients will not be able to afford it.
[Image credit- Flickr]