Federal officials are poised to unveil new regulations allowing for financial institutions to legally interact with licensed businesses that are engaged in cannabis commerce.
United States Attorney General Eric Holder announced the forthcoming guidelines yesterday in a speech at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.
“You don’t want just huge amounts of cash in these place. They (retail facilities that dispense cannabis) want to be able to use the banking system,” Holder said. “And so we (the Obama administration) will be issuing some regulations I think very soon to deal with that issue.”
Presently, federal law discourages financial institutions from accepting deposits or providing banking services for facilities that engage in cannabis-related commerce because the plant remains illegal under the US Controlled Substances Act. While the Obama administration is unlikely to amend cannabis’ illegal status under federal law, the forthcoming rules are anticipated to provide clear guidelines for banks that wish to provide support for state-licensed cannabis facilities.
In Colorado, where retail stores began legally selling cannabis on January 1 to anyone age 21 and older, businesses were estimated to have engaged in over $5 million in marijuana sales in their first week of business.
If there is another human being who has publicly debated more in favor of cannabis law reform, or, spoken to more legal victims of America’s cannabis laws than me, I want to meet and thank them. From these hundreds of debates and thousands of personal encounters with my fellow cannabis consumers busted for ganja, one single phrase that I constantly hear from those who still support cannabis prohibition that instantly pushes my button is: No one gets busted for pot anymore in America…It’s practically legal.
Thankfully, because of the non-stop work from a cast of thousands of citizen-activists, going back over forty years, the latter is somewhat true for about one-third of America’s population. However the former is a bald face lie that must be confronted every time it is uttered by the proponents of pot prohibition.
Even in states where cannabis is supposed to be decriminalized, where states have passed laws making cannabis a ‘minor civil offense’, an encounter with law enforcement regarding one’s cannabis possession or use can have expensive, life-altering and devastating negative effects on a person’s life.
Kudos to BuzzFeed for producing a very well done video profile of a beloved public school teacher in New York City named Alberto Willmore, who, save for this video, would be yet another faceless victim of New York City’s expensive and reckless enforcement of what should be a minor civil offense, like a parking ticket or citation for spitting on the sidewalk. Instead of simply issuing Mr. Willmore a civil fine for possessing a small amount of cannabis, New York City continues to disrespect state laws governing cannabis possession by arresting, detaining, prosecuting and forcing Mr. Willmore to lose his dream job as an art teacher for what law enforcement deem a ‘serious crime’, when the legislature does not–even more so when almost 60% of the US public support legalizing cannabis sales.
NORML has been advocating for almost twenty years in New York City for the city to return to it’s historic cannabis possession arrest rate of under 1,000 per year, down dramatically from the now nearly 40,000 cannabis possession arrests annually in New York City, which exploded under mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg.
Next time you hear a law enforcement representative, opinion maker or politician declare that ‘nobody gets busted for pot any more’, remind them of one of America’s nearly 700,000 annual cannabis arrests: Alberto Willmore
With the recent release by incoming mayor Bill de Blasio’s family of a video from his daughter talking about her use of cannabis, and incoming police commissioner William Bratton’s long experience in effective policing, NORML hopes that 2014 will finally be the year that New York City ceases being the hotbed for cannabis arrests in America and relents on destroying the lives of it’s otherwise productive and appreciated citizens–like Alberto Willmore–who happen to choose to consume cannabis in their home.
On Thursday November 21, US law enforcement agents, along with local police officers raided 14 medical marijuana locations around Colorado (including dispensaries, grow warehouses and 2 private residences), making it one of the largest federal raids since the state’s medical marijuana laws went into effect. A search warrant identifies 10 target subjects, noting alleged violations to the latest DOJ memo dealing with state pot laws that contradict federal policy.
On August 29th, the Justice Department issued a memo to federal prosecutors indicating it wouldn’t interfere with legal marijuana businesses that are acting compliance with state law, so long as they strictly adhere to eight specific areas of concern such as preventing distribution to minors and cultivation on public lands. Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice in Denver said that “there are strong indications that more than one of the eight federal prosecution priorities identified in the Department of Justice’s August guidance memo are potentially implicated.” Two of those violations appear to include trafficking marijuana outside of states where it has been legalized and money laundering. No arrests have been made in this case as of yet.
Many of the locations raided on Thursday had multiple marijuana-related businesses at a single address. According to the Denver Post, “Investigators believe the businesses that were raided are all “one big operation…[and that] those targeted in the raids had been actively purchasing area dispensaries and growhouses over a sustained period of time.”
Juan Guardarrama, One of the named targets, is known to have a criminal history with potential ties to Cuban and Colombian drug gangs, according to the Miami Herald. In 2012 Guardarrama, who is also referred to as “Tony Montana” from the Al Pacino movie “Scarface,” asked undercover police officers to transport his CO-grown marijuana to Florida and?to?”take out”?his?partner. He pleaded guilty earlier this year in Miami in a racketeering case.
This case clearly has a lot of moving parts, and more information is needed to understand the full scope of the situation. But, if evidence proves that there have been large-scale violations to any of the recent DOJ memo’s eight areas of concern, one can’t be surprised that the federal government would act in accordance to its own guidelines. As more information emerges, the public will get a better understanding of the story and the alleged players involved in this operation.
It’s no secret that there has been a proliferation government agencies across the country removing minors and infants from their home, based solely on the fact that a parent is a cannabis consumer, and the false presumption that the presence of marijuana poses a danger. This even occurs in states with a legal medical marijuana program, or where marijuana possession is no longer a criminal offense. Some of these experiences can be incredibly traumatic to the child, as well as the parents, as officers have a tendency to use aggressive and sometimes militaristic tactics while engaging with these families.
NORML receives dozens of calls and emails every month from devastated parents who have lost custody of their children to state agencies, and we remain committed to providing support and resources to those forced into these unfortunate circumstances. In light of such efforts, we are pleased to announce that NORML has recently partnered with the newly formed Family Law and Cannabis Alliance (FLCA), founded by longtime drug reform activists Jess Cochrane and Sara Arnold. The FLCA is an informational clearinghouse that provides educational resources, advocacy information and legal referrals geared toward reformers & affected families on the crossover of marijuana laws & the child protection system.
Sabrina Fendrick, Director of Women’s Outreach said, she is “looking forward to working with the Family Law and Cannabis Alliance to raise awareness about the devastating effects, and sometimes dangerous practice, of child services in removing children from their safe and loving homes for the mere fact a parent is a cannabis consumer. It is time to end this destructive policy, and put an end to marijuana prohibition once and for all.”
Click here for more information on the Family Law and Cannabis Alliance.
[UPDATE: October 30, the family of the young man entrapped by police in this case have filed a lawsuit. Read more here.]
In late 2012, a Riverside County, California police officer infiltrated a local high school, befriended a vulnerable, special needs student and then proceeded to send more than 60 text messages begging the student to buy him weed. The student, who had been diagnosed with autism as well as bipolar disorder, Tourettes, and several anxiety disorders (and noticeably handicapped) became overwhelmed by the pressure, and the desire to keep his only friend. He finally agreed to buy pot for “Dan” (the undercover cop). It took the teenager weeks to find anything, eventually buying half of a joint from from a homeless man downtown.
Then, as reported by Reason Magazine, “On December 11, 2012 armed police officers walked into [the student’s] classroom and arrested him in front of his peers. He was taken to the juvenile detention center, along with the 21 other arrestees, where he was kept for 48 hours. First hand reports claim that the juvenile center was caught off guard by the large number of arrests and that some youths had to sleep on the floor, using toilet paper as pillows.” The child was also expelled from school.
This story is a grotesque example of how our nation’s marijuana policies continue to encourage the use of barbaric and predatory tactics by law enforcement officials. They are financially incentivised to not only target otherwise law abiding citizens, but actively work to manipulate innocent children. Aside from the gross misappropriation of limited police resources, this incident clearly highlights many of the tragic implications marijuana prohibition continues to have on our nation’s youth. Further, zero tolerance policies in schools have proven to be ineffective in the very purpose for which they were originally designed. The practice of engaging in high school undercover drug stings has proven to do nothing to curb teen drug use. It does however, leave the student body traumatized and resentful of law enforcement, making them less likely to report legitimate crimes in the future. It is an egregiously unfair and punitive practice by educational institutions to expel students as punishment for any infraction of a rule, a significant portion of which are for non-violent low level drug violations. How does removing a minor from what is intended to be a stable, nurturing environment do anything to help prepare these individuals to lead responsible productive lives? They are now forced to sit at home with nothing to do but hang out with other expelled peers, or in a juvenile detention center.
One can argue that this all leads back to the financial incentives driving police officers to arrest as many individuals on drug charges as possible. Every year, law enforcement jurisdictions are given federal grants, swat gear, overtime pay and assets based solely on their number of drug arrests. Perhaps it is a result of former Governor Schwarzenegger’s passage of SB 1449 in 2010, which reduced the crime of possession of an ounce of pot from a misdemeanor to an infraction for adults 18 and over. Now, the only way to keep up their arrest rates is by targeting minors – whose charges remain misdemeanors. It is time to stop the madness and put an end to these insane zero-tolerance policies. Our children’s future depends on it.
**The family of the student framed by an undercover officer have set up a fundraiser to support their lawsuit against the school district. Click here for more information.