June 24--Few things will make you feel more paranoid than traveling with a large wad of cash in your pocket. But for Washington's young cannabis companies, it's looking like that may be a daily reality.
Beyond the banking issues forcing many businesses to be cash-only, employees are also responsible for transporting their products to retailers and transporting the payment back to their facility. I-502 doesn't allow the marijuana entrepreneurs to contract out to security companies, something many say they'd prefer so they can keep their people -- and their cash -- safe.
"There has definitely been talk of coming up with a license for third-party secure transportation," said Alison Holcomb, criminal justice director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and author of the initiative. "I think it's legitimate to say there's a valid need."
Brian Stroh, owner of CannaMan Farms, Clark County's only licensed grower so far, said he'd absolutely prefer to contract shipments out to a security company.
But it will be a while before changes could be made to the legislation, so in the meantime he's working on other options to make vehicles used by his company more secure.
"I don't anticipate (the drives to stores) as being like a James Bond movie," Stroh said. "But if you were somebody transporting a couple of times a day it certainly would be worrisome. We're small, so we'll probably only ship a couple times a month."
Still, when the opportunity to buy an armored vehicle presented itself, Stroh found it hard to refuse.
"It's pretty tricked out," he said of the used vehicle he bought for $500. "But do I anticipate driving that thing to Yakima with no air conditioning? I'm not so sure about that."
Adam Stites, owner of Mirth Provisions, a processor in Longview that makes marijuana-infused coffee drinks, said he's also equipped himself with an armored vehicle.
"We purchased our own Ford F350 delivery van and customized it," Stites said. "It's double reinforced with a custom fabricated set of doors and a cage. One of our employees will drive it."
Both Stroh and Stites said they're more concerned about transporting cash than they are about transporting marijuana products. They're hoping Washington's credit unions or another banking source will be willing to take electronic cash payments, which are still illegal on the federal level despite some assurances by the feds that companies won't be prosecuted.
"We don't really want our drivers to have to carry cash," Stites said. "The banking issues haven't been a huge problem yet, though we do have some contingency plans in place."
Stroh also, somewhat cryptically, said he has a plan for his cash.
"Once we have it we'll liquidate it," he said, refusing to go into more details for security reasons.
Armored vehicle companies have contacted Holcomb to say they're interested in working with Washington companies so they can transport products safely, but they won't be able to until some sort of licensing is created by the Legislature.
"It shouldn't be that complicated, but it's tough to know what will happen," Holcomb said. "Practically speaking, there are a lot of people transporting marijuana right now, and we're not sure how great the risks are. But there are certainly valid concerns."
In the meantime, Stroh and Stites said they're committed to getting their shipments out to stores as they prepare to open.
"Everybody knows this is just the way the law was written," Stroh said. "We're just going to have to run with it for awhile."
(c)2014 The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.)
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Distributed by MCT Information Services
Original headline: Transportation issues give pot retailers pause
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