Columbia Care, a New York-based vertically integrated cannabis company with a presence in 12 U.S. states, launched the Columbia National Credit program to broaden...

Columbia Care, a New York-based vertically integrated cannabis company with a presence in 12 U.S. states, launched the Columbia National Credit program to broaden payment options for customers.

For an industry plagued by the federally illegal status of its primary product—and the attendant banking obstacles that come with it—the move by Columbia Care represents a private business learning the financial ropes and taking matters into its own hands.

Columbia Care credit card cannabis purchases

Columbia Care

“We are in the business of expanding the entire national cannabis market, and this is exactly the type of industry-wide challenge our team excels at solving. By launching the first credit card in the country that can be used by consumers and industry participants to purchase cannabis products, we now exclusively offer an important capability that will serve Columbia Care’s national growth initiatives, including home delivery, automatic fulfillment and e-commerce,” Nicholas Vita, CEO of Columbia Care, said in a public statement

For now, the Columbia National Credit program is available only at Columbia Care dispensaries. New York dispensaries were first to offer the cashless payment option in 2018, followed by Delaware and Pennsylvania. Next up this month: Illinois and Arizona. Columbia Care management intends to offer the credit program at all U.S. stores by the end of the year.

Beyond that, the company is “evaluating opportunities” to extend to the program to other businesses through partnerships.

And so far, so good. The company reported an 18-percent increase in basket size for in-store purchases in New York when customers used the Columbia National Credit card during a 2018 pilot program. The growth is even more clear in delivery transactions, which account for 10 percent of the company’s revenue in New York. For delivery customers using the Columbia National Credit card, basket sizes were 40-percent higher than in-store purchases.

“Based on our success in New York, one of the most demanding retail markets in the world, we are confident that the CNC Card has the potential to be a significant value add for the company and for all of our customers who look to us for reliable and convenient high-quality health and wellness options,” Vita said in a public statement.

More broadly speaking, the industry continues to wrestle with questions of banking, credit and cashless payments. California lawmakers, for example, are working to allow banks and credit unions to accept cash deposits from dispensaries—to set up what would look like a state-chartered banking system for the cannabis industry. The California General Assembly passed the bill with a 35-1 vote in May; the California Senate has the bill in committee as of June 13

And in Washington, D.C., federal legislators continue to push forward the SAFE Banking Act, which would shield financial institutions from federal prosecution when engaging the cannabis industry in business. That bill, H.R. 1595, is awaiting a full floor vote in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) introduced the SAFE Banking Act in March.

“The SAFE Banking Act is about public safety, accountability and respecting states’ rights. Our federal banking laws were designed to prevent illicit activity and help law enforcement do their jobs,” Perlmutter said in a public statement at the time. “These laws need to be applied to legitimate marijuana businesses and employees in order to improve transparency and accountability and help root out illegal transactions. Most importantly, the SAFE Banking Act will get cash off our streets, reducing the risk of violent crime and making our communities safer.” 

Until then, Columbia Care has shown that other financial options are on the table for cannabis retailers.

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