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Gardner credit union, Colo. firm to offer cannabis banking services in Mass.

September 14, 2018
Courtesy | GFA Federal Credit Union
Courtesy | GFA Federal Credit Union
GFA Federal Credit Union is headquartered in Gardner.

GFA Federal Credit Union and a Colorado-based company are the first to offer banking services to the legal cannabis industry in Massachusetts.

With that new arrangement, cannabis companies can now accept payments via credit and debit cards. Currently, most dispensaries can only accept cash payments, which creates a safety issue with large amounts of cash flowing through facilities.

The Gardner-based credit union is partnering with Safe Harbor Services, a Colorado-based financial services firm that connects cannabis-related businesses with financial institutions.

Both companies announced the new services Friday for both Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the two states where GFA has branches. The credit union can accept its first client on Oct. 1.

According to GFA CEO Tina Sbrega, the credit union has been doing its due diligence for more than a year, including researching the industry and their banking needs as well as studying up on banking regulations to protect the credit union.

"We know they wanted to be treated as the legitimate businesses they are," she said, commenting on their banking needs such as payroll and finance tracking. "You can't do that when you're wandering around with all kinds of cash all over the place."

According to Sbrega, GFA will only consider working with a business that has all of its regulatory approvals from the state and municipality, including licenses from the Cannabis Control Commission and a host community agreement from a city or town.

When adult-use marijuana sales began in Colorado four years ago, warehouses and storage facilities were filled with cash. Eventually, businesses even began burying cash.

To pay bills, employees would be sent with essentially bags of money to local stores to purchase money orders.

That amount of cash being transported regularly sets up a gigantic public safety issue, Sbrega said.

"Public safety is really the driving force behind this decision," she said.

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