Four state cannabis leaders convened for a discussion led by Grown In's Brad Spirrison.

Five cannabis industry association leaders convened for a briefing by the Cannabis Business Association of Illinois on the differences between state cannabis markets on Tuesday afternoon. During the discussion moderated by Grown In’s Brad Spirrison, some of biggest differences discovered were social equity program success and delivery programs. But every state is looking for more private investment and more banks willing to bank cannabis.

A common thread for every state is how real estate prices have skewed social equity applicants’ ability to set up shop with a new dispensary. 

“Municipalities are putting into place exclusionary zoning practices,” said Robin Schneider, Executive Director of the Michigan Cannabis Business Association, “So, the real estate costs skyrocket. So, social equity participants can’t get a location.”

In Massachusetts, the dispensary application process can be long and arduous, and throughout the process, a dispensary owner has to have a location secured, making the cost prohibitive for any applicant not backed by significant investment.

“It could be a year plus, sometimes two years that you’re sitting on property paying lease or maintaining purchased property,” said David O’Brien, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Cannabis Business Association. “Among the 50 recreational dispensaries [in Massachusetts] one is minority-owned, which is in Boston. But we have a ways to go.”

Washington state, which legalized recreational cannabis in 2014, the dispensary application fee is a mere $50, said Crystal Oliver, Executive Director of the Washington Sun Growers Association.

“The idea was to create a very low barrier to entry to encourage people to move from the unregulated marketplace to the regulated marketplace,” said Oliver. “That was one of the important things to do in Washington. As a result we had success transitioning people from illicit backgrounds, but we had challenges with local ordinances, where you site these businesses, and the price and value of that property.”

Cannabis delivery is legal in Michigan and Washington, but not in Illinois. But in Massachusetts, delivery licenses have been set aside purely for social equity applicants. 

“If there is a bright spot in social equity and economic empowerment in applicant pools, this is it,” said O’Brien. “Delivery licenses will be held for a two year exclusionary period, technically can be up to three, because they can add an additional year on to that.”

Meanwhile, complaints from Washington state’s Oliver about banking fees sparked a fervent discussion about banking for cannabis.

“It’s fairly expensive to get a bank account [in Washington state]. Usually a checking account costs $150 to $300 each month just for the privilege of having a checking account. And there is generally a $1,000 nonrefundable deposit to obtain that account,” said Oliver.

“In Illinois we’d love those fees. Ours are closer to $500-1000/month,” said Pamela Althoff, executive director of the Cannabis Business Association of Illinois.

“We’re seeing rates of standard rates of $3,000 a month, plus one percent of all your deposits,” said Michigan’s Schneider.

One upping them all, Massachusetts’ O’Brien stepped in, “I’ve been told [cannabis businesses] can pay banking fees of $5,000 to $6,000 a month. Not that I want to outbid any other state!”

A recording of the entire discussion is available on YouTube.


Editor Mike is a co-founder and the editor of Grown In, a U.S. national cannabis industry newsletter and training company. His career has taken him from Capitol Hill to Chicago City Hall, from...