As armed robberies surge, Tacoma cannabis shop rolls out cash-free payment option

A cannabis shop in Tacoma has debuted a new cashless payment system just weeks after armed robbers terrorized the staff. 

The new system lets customers pay through their phones which can mean less cash on hand for criminals to show up and steal.

The cash-free option is called Aeropay and Mary Mart in Tacoma got the system up and running on Thursday. Billy White, the general manager, said it’s convenient for customers and safer for his staff.

“People talk a lot about how we are cash-only businesses but they never talk about the security precautions that we're taking in these places," White said.

Last month, two teenage fugitives burst into Mary Mart and pointed a gun at a worker's head, according to police. The armed robbers also fired a shot into the ceiling before they stole money and weed. Taking cash out of the equation is one way to make cannabis stores less of a target.

“Our payment solution is really excellent for high-risk industries,” said Milou de Meij with Aeropay. “Just having cash on the premise has a lot of security risks that come with it."

The vast majority of the state's cannabis shops remain cash-only due to federal banking rules that prevent credit and debit card transactions. A handful of shops offer PIN debit transfers, including Mary Mart, but it's limited.

“Also, Visa is cracking down on cashless ATMs, which I know a lot of dispensaries have used,” de Meij said.

To use Aeropay, customers have to set up an account and then link it to their bank. White said Aeropay won't solve all the security issues but it could help lessen the allure for criminals.

“I hope it's something that other dispensaries and other stores are able to utilize and make themselves safer," White said.

There are other cashless payment services but many shop owners say fees of up to 10 percent are just too high to make the switch. Aeropay said it works on a sliding scale depending on the industry, but averages about 2 percent.

The number of cannabis store robberies has soared since the start of the year. There have been 77 armed robberies so far in 2022, according to the Craft Cannabis Coalition. That compares with 34 robberies last year and 27 the year before.

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