Since Ohio’s first medical marijuana dispensaries opened in early 2019, patients have expressed concern about the prices for medicinal cannabis products. While normal in any emerging state market, high prices on cannabis in Ohio have shown to be discouraging for patients seeking relief. A new startup called “Spendr” wants to solve this problem by rewarding cannabis consumers for the products they buy. 

Introducing Spendr: Rewards for Purchasing Cannabis and Other Products

Spendr Founder Lucas Gould had a front row seat to the formation of the Ohio medical marijuana program in 2018 via his notable local family. “That was my initial entry, being visible to all of it. Being around it and experiencing it, it was exciting.” 

Gould went on to an internship in college at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio. He began working for a company called Cannuka that infuses skincare products with CBD and Manuka honey. “It was my first exposure from a business standpoint, working day to day with a cannabis-related company, and I just loved it… Just hearing how people felt about going natural and doing things differently–was really positive.”

His career after college took Gould to a job at J.P. Morgan, first in Columbus, Ohio and then in Atlanta, Georgia. “It gave me a lot of good understanding of how to do banking on a more traditional scale. I always had a goal of combining my two loves: cannabis and banking/payments.”

Back in Ohio, Gould registered as a medical marijuana patient. It was in these early days of the Ohio medical marijuana program that he saw the need for a better payment system for dispensaries. “I’m a cannabis patient here in Ohio and really felt that there was something like this that was needed in the marketplace. Not just in Ohio, but nationally as well.” 

The Need for Spendr in the Ohio Cannabis Market

In October of 2020, Gould went to visit his mother on a two-week trip in Northern California. “I bounced around to many dispensaries and what I saw was the same problem time and time again, right? Lack of payment options, expensive ATM fees, very inconvenient payment processes. And the few mobile payment solutions that I was able to experience were very antiquated. In my opinion, they didn’t have the consumer–the patient–in mind.”

He felt what was needed in cannabis was a platform built by patients that would be user-friendly and intuitive. He also wanted to normalize the patient experience to reduce the stigma around the cannabis plant. 

“I think people knew that this was needed for so long. But yet nobody was doing it,” he said. “I always wondered to myself, are we really all okay with paying the three to $6 ATM fee? Are we really all okay with having to go to the bank every time we go to the dispensary? You know, are we really okay with getting nothing back for our purchase?”

In Ohio’s cannabis market, Gould says Spendr will be a benefit for new patients who are experiencing and experimenting with cannabis for the first time. Medical marijuana doctors often suggest that patients try various strains, forms of administration, and terpene profiles to achieve an ideal dose. That can get expensive. Spendr wants to help patients to explore products more affordably. Spendr will also be a benefit to any patient looking for a more convenient and rewarding experience at the dispensary or elsewhere. 

While Spendr has its goals set on transforming the cannabis industry, its digital payments & rewards platform is applicable to businesses & consumers in any industry looking for contactless, mobile payments + rewards. Spendr will have non-dispensary merchants on the platform as well, like your local coffee shop, smoke shop, or neighborhood barber. This allows consumers/patients to earn & spend rewards at any Spendr merchant. 

Moving Away from Cash to Digital Electronic Payments

Ohio patients noted the lack of safety they felt needing to carry cash to make dispensary transactions. A few Ohio dispensaries offer Hypur, a mobile payment app that lets patients pay for cannabis directly from their bank account. Some dispensaries offer high-fee debit transactions. But no Ohio dispensary yet offers a mobile payment app that’s linked to a rewards program. 

Gould uses the analogy of the Starbucks app. “People will use the app over anything else. And you can use your credit card, debit card, Pay Pal them, you name it. But you always go back to that Starbucks app. And so we set out to build that Starbucks experience in cannabis.”

How Will Spendr Work?

A technology partner helped Spendr set out to build the platform and then Spendr found a bank partner to support them on the payment side.Spendr works similarly to mobile apps like Starbucks, Venmo, or PayPal. The app is available both on iOS, Apple App Store, and Android at the Google Play Store. Spendr will also be availableon the web. 

A patient will start by downloading the app and creating a Spendr account. Once they create their account, they’ll be prompted to securely link their bank account. Either ahead of time, or at the point of sale, a patient can load their Spendrwallet. They go into the app, deposit how much they want to load, and that money is instantly available in their Spendr wallet,” Gould explains. 

The dispensaries that accept Spendr payments will display a QR code to the patient. “The patient then scans that QR code, confirms the payment details, and that payment will be pushed from your  Spendr wallet to that dispensary. No need to enter a code on a pin pad.”

Benefit to Dispensaries

From a business standpoint, Gould explains that a cashless payment system at the dispensary is more cost effective, convenient, and safer. Traditional retailers are not nearly as restricted in their marketing content as cannabis dispensaries, and they still have comprehensive loyalty programs in place. Loyalty programs can be great for customer retention as it helps dispensaries understand and accommodate their patients better. “We really believe strongly that our platform will be a way for not only dispensaries, but brands, to engage with their customers and to engage with the patients as well.” Spendr has crafted its features to follow the compliance requirement and regulations in each state specific Cannabis Program.

Additional Benefits to Patients 

One benefit to both patients and dispensary workers is that Spendr is contactless. Especially during the pandemic, contactless payments gets away from the need to handle and transfer unsanitary cash. Patients (especially women) also often note the lack of safety regarding carrying cash into and out of dispensaries. Spendr eliminates that. 

Gould explains that Spendr will also offer a suite of informational tools to help patients and consumers journal and understand how their cannabis products (and other products) affect them. A ‘my products’ personal digital library allows you to store your favorite products, record the primary effects, flavor profile, THC/CBD percentages, etc. “I see this in a lot in dispensaries,” Gould says. “They hand out these patient journals, which are great, but I’m rarely carrying around a notebook with me at all times. But I always have my phone. So at any point in time, I can load in my product, say how it’s helping me or not helping me, and then I always have that information handy when I go back to the dispensary.”

“Spendr’s goal as a company is to not only create that rewarding experience, but really help to normalize this plant. I think it starts with how you find it and how you pay for it. We just want people to feel comfortable and safe going into a dispensary and making a purchase.” 

How to Get Spendr

Interested patients & consumers can join the Spendr waitlist now as a founding member. For joining, new members get a $25 signup credit, access to exclusive events and merchandise.

Spendr is giving away gold Spendr coins to the first 10,000 people who visit a Spendr merchant and use the Spendr App to make a purchase.

Interested dispensaries can sign up to become a Spendr Merchant by contacting Spendr at hello@spendr.com. 

A soft launch for Spendr occurred in January . Spendr will officially launch in early February. Ohio patients and consumers can sign up for Spendr at www.spendr.com to stay informed of launch timing, events, and other information.

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Author

  • Medicate OH's Founder and Publisher is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio and holds an undergraduate degree in journalism and a master's degree in public administration, both from Northern Kentucky University. She has more than 20 years of experience writing and editing professionally for the medical and wellness industries, including positions with The Journal of Pediatrics, Livestrong, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and Patient Pop.