More than one year into legal sales of recreational marijuana, and customers are still, by and large, given only one payment option – cash. This shortcoming has been addressed by PayQwick, a business headquartered in Calabasas, California, and operating locally in Kenmore. The new service is striving to be “the PayPal of marijuana” in order to minimize cash operations in the industry and eliminate unnecessary risk to improve customer convenience.

So far, customers, producers, and retailers have been, by necessity, dealing with cash-only transactions. Federal banks aren’t interested in getting involved with a tricky industry that is legal only on a state level. This aspect of the business is one that has room for expansion and improvement.

PayQwick’s CEO Kenneth Berke thinks that finding other payment options can push marijuana toward a more established and traditional standing, and his electronic payment method could give a much-needed update to cannabis sales.

“We really legitimize business practices in the I-502 industry,” Berke said. “Nobody else out there is providing this type of system for businesses.”

The PayQwick system operates using physical cards that customers swipe to pay. The cards are loaded with money from users’ bank accounts but eliminate personal information to maintain privacy. The service can be used to pay for anything, which is why PayQwick’s founder sees the system as a huge help for payments between businesses. Retailers can pay producers, growers, and utility bills instead of using what Berke calls the “buckets of cash” method.

Outside of helping Washington’s businesses, Berke hopes that PayQwick can help keep business owners physically safe. Cash-only businesses have a higher risk for robberies and human error, and federal laws keep business owners on their toes, something that Berke, who also is a lawyer, wanted to ensure wouldn’t be a problem for PayQwick.

“We think that it’s hugely beneficial for shops,” he said of the company’s compliance program, which according to PayQwick’s website will “ensure that your business is fully I-502 compliant so that you are running a business your bank can trust.”

For businesses like Bellevue’s BelMar Marijuana Store, building trust with financial institutions can be a tough barrier to overcome. BelMar’s general manager Boris Leviach is looking to expand payment options in order to meet customer demand.

“It was incredibly hard to find a debit provider who trusted us,” Leviach said. “Nobody was willing to work with a marijuana business.”

PayQwick currently works with six retail shops, including High Society in Everett and Cannabis City in Seattle, as well as three producer/processor businesses. Berke says that more than 30 shops will be joining the system in the near future, and that the company also will be launching a smartphone app for added convenience.

With these changes to come, PayQwick’s founder is certain that the service can help propel the industry in the right direction. “Washington has the unique opportunity to really do it right,” Berke said. “We can set the standards for the rest of the country.”