Marijuana shop owners high on credit concept | AspenTimes.com

Marijuana shop owners high on credit concept

A customer pays Sasha Couturier, a bud tender at Green Dragon Apothecary, with cash Thursday afternoon. Cash is the only legal tender for marijuana shops in Colorado due to federal banking regulations, but that could change if a state credit union for the marijuana industry is allowed to open next year.

Every week or so, Garrett Patrick must visit his bank to exchange cash for cashier's checks so he can pay off his vendors. Like a business with bad credit, he can't write checks either.

As the owner of the Stash marijuana dispensary at the Aspen Business Center, with plans to relocate to downtown Aspen, Patrick must deal strictly with cash. That's because cannabis, while legal in Colorado, is still considered illegal by the federal government, which regulates banks and prohibits them from doing business with the marijuana trade.

"It just makes everything a pain, having to make cash deposits and get cashier's checks from the bank teller so I can pay bills," Patrick said. "It would be so much easier just to have a checkbook. My gosh, that would be so much easier."

And that's why Aspen-area purveyors are drooling over the prospects of the first-ever marijuana credit union opening in Colorado. The Denver Post recently has reported on the prospects of the opening of Fourth Corner Credit Union, which needs to clear some government hurdles before it can open, possibly as early as January.

"I'll do back flips on Main Street if it opens," said Ron Radtke, owner of the Green Dragon medical and recreational marijuana shops in Aspen. He also has three stories in Glenwood and has plans to open one in Basalt.

Since January, Radtke's staff count has grown from 12 to 49.

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"We pay in cash and we have a payroll company, but we have to do a lot of creative maneuvering," he said.

Through his payroll provider, some of Radtke's workers get checks and others get cash.

"It just depends," Radtke said.

But if a credit union becomes a reality, the cash-only atmosphere will be history, creating a more efficient way for Radtke to do business, he said.

"I'll have a place to deposit immediately," he said. "I can write a check and I can use a credit card. My employees can deposit checks without people questioning them."

Boulder resident Josh Ginsberg, who this week received the Local Licensing Authority's blessing to open Native Roots Aspen, a recreational marijuana shop, owns six other dispensaries in the state. Since the stores opened, he has worked with a payroll company to which he gives the cash, and it turns around and cuts checks to his employees.

"We deposit our money into our payroll company's account, but there's still that gap," he said. "It makes it difficult for us, and we pay vendors."

The Aspen store will create 25 jobs, he said.

Since they don't accept credit cards or checks, many dispensaries have cash machines.

In October, South Dakota-based MetaBank shut down hundreds of ATMs in Colorado pot shops after warning them that the machines violated federal law. Ginsberg said some of his ATMs were shuttered at the time.

But with a credit union on board, many of the hassles tied to running a marijuana businesses would go away.

"We're very excited about this," Patrick said. "We're just hoping it doesn't take too long."

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

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