Navigate to our accessibility widget

Sunday November 14, 2021

By Paul Barach

someone paying someone with cash Education

Your first dispensary visit is an exciting time. Whether you’re flashing your ID’s newly legal birthdate or coming in from out of town, it’s hard not to feel that sense of childlike wonder at the buffet of flower, gummies, chocolates, resins, rosins, and everything else in its bright packaging. 

Once you’ve finished up with your first pot shopping spree, the last thing you want to do is be unprepared at the register. While the budtenders are more than happy to sell you whatever your heart desires (within state limits), only certain forms of legal tender are accepted at all dispensaries. You don’t want to hold up the line or delay your cannabis plans by having to go get another type of payment. Or, worse, have to leave the shop with your products still sitting forlornly behind the counter.

That’s why PotGuide is here to fill you in on what forms of payment are accepted at cannabis dispensaries.  

What is The Best Way to Pay at the Dispensary?

Cash is the only form of payment accepted at every dispensary. This coin of the cannabis realm guarantees the most reliable and fastest shopping experience. Plus, it makes it easier to tip your helpful budtender.

To make extra certain your dispensary experience runs smoothly, it’s best to pick up cash from your bank’s ATM beforehand. It’s free and you can check your account balance to make sure you don’t overdraw. If you don’t have a bank branch on your way (or you can’t get cash back from a grocery store purchase), all is not lost.

Someone pulling cash out of their wallet to pay
Cash is typically the best way to pay at a dispensary. photo credit

Nearly every dispensary will have an ATM on site. However, you will probably have to pay extra fees to withdraw from it. Also, since dispensary ATMs are heavily used, they sometimes run out of cash.

Many dispensaries now offer online ordering. This is a good way to know your purchase total beforehand so you can bring the exact amount of cash needed.

Are There Any Other Forms of Payment Allowed?

Until cannabis is federally legalized, finding a stable payment work-around that doesn’t involve cash is one of the industry’s constant headaches.

Currently, the most common workaround has been accepting payments using a debit card by the “cashless ATM” method. The transaction appears normal. You slide your card into the reader, enter your pin, and the payment is accepted. However, on the back end, the dispensary is essentially using an augmented ATM system. The budtender withdraws cash from your bank on your behalf, then pays it back out of their till minus the cost of your purchase. The dispensary’s ATM service then settles up electronically at the end of the day.

Someone swiping their debit card
More and more dispensaries are allowing the use of debit cards through the cashless ATM method. photo credit

This method still usually charges an ATM service fee, but it's convenient, safe, and cashless for the germ-avoidant. Some banks or ATM services will even waive additional fees, and some dispensaries will reimburse the customer for them.

Other dispensaries have been experimenting with cryptocurrency transactions and other work-arounds, but these are far less common to find. Similarly, there have been multiple attempts at making a payment card system, where customers load funds onto a special card that can then be used to complete the transaction. These systems work well when they are functioning properly, but a smooth and easy industry leader is yet to emerge. Typically, these systems still have some bugs to work out, but if you find one that works for you, count yourself lucky and spread the good word.

cryptocurrency coins
The use of cryptocurrency has popped up at a few dispensaries. photo credit

Very rarely, some dispensaries do accept credit instead of debit. Typically, this business has listed their credit account under a different parent company. They’re often running transactions under their parent company’s name to avoid the notice of banking regulators. These transactions can occur in a legal gray area as long as the dispensary has the know-how to avoid anti-money laundering laws.

However, it’s more likely that the bank or credit union processing the transactions will catch on and close the account. Until the dispensary can find another credit transactor, they’ll be running as a purely cash business.

Why is Payment an Issue?

The reasons that dispensaries can’t just accept any form of payment lies in cannabis’ legal grey area. While a majority of states have currently legalized some form of cannabis sales — supported by a majority of the US population — the federal government is still dragging its heels. Marijuana is still federally scheduled as an illegal drug. Thus, any income from cannabis sales could still be considered “drug money,” in the eyes of federal law enforcement. This means that banks processing those funds can be subject to anti-money laundering laws and thus are risking their very existence.

Wallet Money
Cannabis banking will continue to be an issue until federal law is changed. photo credit

As a result, most banks opt not to work with cannabis companies at all, and most cannabis businesses are forced into only accepting cash. Though it doesn’t allow for normal banking services, and the federal government seems perfectly happy to take its share in taxes. 

Progressive politicians have put forward multiple bills that would give cannabis businesses access to federal banking and ease restrictions. However, progress on those bills in the house and senate has been stalled continually due to GOP obstruction (and a handful of Democrats as well). Cannabis banking reform continues to be a talking point for pundits on both sides of the aisle, but so far, little concrete movement has been made. Sen. Cory Booker has outright said that he will fight cannabis banking reform unless legalization and decriminalization are addressed first.

The Wrap Up

If you’re visiting a dispensary, your safest bet is to bring cash. Cash payments bypass the tricky economic framework that the cannabis business must operate in, which makes it “the coin of the realm” for dispensaries. However, there will almost always be an ATM on site if you forget. If you don’t want to deal in cash for whatever reason, most dispensaries will have an option to pay with a debit card. There are other options as well, so it’s always good to call ahead and ask about what payment types they accept. 

Can you purchase cannabis with a credit card?

Yes, but it’s rare for dispensaries to accept credit card payments since it requires some legal grey areas to process payments. 

Why are dispensaries cash-only?

Because cannabis remains federally illegal, most banks are wary of processing cannabis transactions since they could get charged with money laundering. 

Can I pay with debit at a dispensary?

Yes, many dispensaries now allow debit card transactions.

Can I get cash using my debit card?

The dispensary may give you some cash back from your purchase that’s left over from the ATM-assisted transaction, but you cannot withdraw cash from a budtender’s till like an ATM. 

Can dispensaries deposit money in the bank?

Yes, dispensaries may deposit cash in the bank. 

What is your preferred method of payment at a dispensary? Let us know in the comments!

Photo Credit: Hloom Templates (license)


Paul Barach Paul Barach

Paul Barach is a Seattle-based freelance writer, editor, and author with experience creating well-researched, edited web articles covering cannabis news, culture, history and science. Paul is a regular contributor to PotGuide and has also contributed to publications such as, SlabMechanix, Litro, and The Trek. He prefers to spend his free time outdoors and most recently hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. So far he has only fallen into the La Brea Tarpits once. You can follow him on Instagram @BarachOutdoors and stay up to date professionally through his LinkedIn page.

More From This Author

Related Articles