A growing startup, Wurk, markets an HR software platform for the cannabis industry that handles the complex payroll, compliance and workforce management needs of the business.

You won’t find a major HR tech vendor that sells software aimed at the fast-growing cannabis industry. A startup called Wurk decided to fill that vacuum.

CEO Keegan Peterson, 32, a young veteran of several HR tech vendors, founded Wurk in 2014 to serve the unusual personnel management needs of cannabis growers, labs, distributors and retailers.

Perhaps understandably, Wurk doesn’t like to release the names of its clients because of the still-turbulent legal and political atmosphere surrounding marijuana legalization.

For example, while marijuana for medical and recreational use is now legal in 30 states and Washington, D.C., federal law still prohibits it. And Attorney General Jeff Sessions in January 2018 rescinded Obama-era rules discouraging U.S. attorneys from enforcing the federal law in states where marijuana is legal.

Even so, business is good for the vendor based in Boulder, Colo., Peterson told SearchHRSoftware.

The U.S. cannabis industry has about 200,000 workers now and is expected to grow to a workforce of some 500,000 by 2020, according to Peterson.

Wurk’s SaaS-delivered software is built to help cannabis businesses navigate the often fiendishly complex and seemingly constantly changing laws affecting their operation and be able to reliably pay their employees.

“The real challenge with payroll is the way companies traditionally move money doesn’t necessarily work for the cannabis industry, so there have to be new systems in place that could support high-risk industries, like cannabis,” Peterson said.

The vast majority of mainstream banks won’t handle money for cannabis businesses, so Wurk’s payroll platform is configured to process payments through “cannabis banks.” An example is Partner Colorado, a former small credit union that has grown into a leading bank for the marijuana industry. (Wurk declined to name the cannabis banks it works with.)

“It’s very unique. We have to write contracts differently. We have to do payroll differently. We have to think of the operations of our clients differently,” Peterson said.

Wurk relies on three law firms it retains to advise the company on compliance issues. In turn, Wurk helps its customers comply with each marijuana-legal state’s particular laws.

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