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Tommy Chong’s solution for pot’s banking problem

Tommy Chong, the man most famous for pot-infused "Cheech and Chong" movies and whose name is already on marijuana deodorizing wipes, is putting his name on a few other things, including a loyalty and payments card and a strain of marijuana.  

The Tommy Chong Green Card is being marketed as a payments solution for medical marijuana dispensaries and recreational marijuana retailers that are now largely operating as all-cash businesses because of U.S. banking laws.

The cards sell for $19.95 each and must be loaded using cash — not a credit or debit card.

Most marijuana shops operate using cash instead of bank accounts and credit cards because marijuana, while legal in some form in 23 U.S. states, is still illegal on a federal level. Many banks worry they’ll run afoul of federal banking laws by working with legal marijuana businesses.

"Right now the toughest thing for the industry is how to deal with the cash problem," Chong said.

Chong’s workaround has him partnering with a merchant services company that treats the cards like gift cards instead of credit cards, thus placing them outside the purview of banking regulators. The company, Cannabis Merchant Financial Solutions, is part of FastFunds Financial Corporation, whose shares are traded over-the-counter.

The company had been looking for a celebrity to serve as the face of its card and began working with Chong last year, said Kurt Martig, president of Cannabis Merchant Financial Solutions.

Cannabis Merchant Financial plans to distribute the cards in Colorado, California and Washington, states where marijuana is legal for medical or recreational purposes, or both. Users will have to load the cards at a dispensary but will then be able to use them at any store that accepts Tommy Chong cards.

Cardholders earn rewards and discounts for their purchases and could eventually be rewarded for buying Chong's strain of weed with his card.

Chong has partnered with Pueblo, Colo.-based Marisol Therapeutics to develop and sell a strain of marijuana dubbed "Chong Star" that Chong loyalists could even opt to smoke out of a Tommy Chong-branded vaporizer.  

"If you're going to be in the game, you've got to try it all," Chong said. "There's no sitting back and seeing what works."