Today, the Department of Justice and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network division of the Treasury Department released long anticipated guidance to banks and other financial institutions on how they can interact with marijuana businesses that are licensed under state law.
Under current regulations, financial institutions are required to file suspicious activity reports when they suspect the transaction has a drug connection. The new guidance creates a three tiered system for these reports: marijuana limited, marijuana priority, and marijuana termination. This will allow these institutions to work with marijuana businesses as long as they were operating in accordance with state laws and regulations. The Department of Justice reserved the right to pursue criminal charges when they suspect businesses are breaking the guidelines they released late last year and would still require banks to report any activity they suspect to be as operating outside of state regulations.
“Now that some states have elected to legalize and regulate the marijuana trade, FinCEN seeks to move from the shadows the historically covert financial operations of marijuana businesses,” noted FinCEN Director Jennifer Shasky Calvery in a press release. “Our guidance provides financial institutions with clarity on what they must do if they are going to provide financial services to marijuana businesses and what reporting will assist law enforcement.”
“This reduces the burden on banks,” FinCEN stated during a briefing on the memo, “Marijuana under federal law requires a SAR. Now, the necessity is limited, reducing the banks’ burden a bit and more importantly clarifies where law enforcement focuses its attention.”
While this is a good start when it comes to allowing marijuana businesses to operate the same as those in any other regulated industry, memos such as these can be ultimately overturned by future administrations. To make this change lasting and binding, Congress must now act to codify it into law. The Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act is currently pending before the House of Representatives and would do just that. You can click here to quickly and easily write your representative and urge him/her to support this important legislation.
Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN) has introduced federal legislation, House Resolution 4046, to remove legal restrictions prohibiting the Office of National Drug Control Policy from researching marijuana legalization. These restrictions also require the office to oppose any and all efforts to liberalize criminal laws associated with the plant.
“Not only is the ONDCP the only federal office required by law to oppose rescheduling marijuana even if it is proven to have medical benefits, but it is also prohibited from studying if that could be even be true,” said Congressman Cohen. “The ONDCP’s job should be to develop and recommend sane drug control policies, not be handcuffed or muzzled from telling the American people the truth. How can we trust what the Drug Czar says if the law already preordains its position? My bill would give the ONDCP the freedom to use science—not ideology—in its recommendations and give the American people a reason to trust what they are told.”
These restrictions were placed on the Office of National Drug Control Policy by the Reauthorization Act of 1998, which mandates the ODCP director “shall ensure that no Federal funds appropriated to the Office of National Drug Control Policy shall be expended for any study or contract relating to the legalization (for a medical use or any other use) of a substance listed in schedule I of section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812) and take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance (in any form) that–
(A) is listed in schedule I of section 202 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812); and
(B) has not been approved for use for medical purposes by the Food and Drug Administration;”
You can quickly and easily contact your representative by clicking here.
Earlier today, 18 members of Congress signed onto a letter that was delivered to President Barack Obama calling for him to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.
“We request that you take action to help alleviate the harms to society caused by the federal Schedule I classification of marijuana. Lives and resources are wasted on enforcing harsh, unrealistic, and unfair marijuana laws,” the letter reads, “Nearly two-thirds of a million people every year are arrested for marijuana possession. We spend billions every year enforcing marijuana laws, which disproportionately impact minorities. According to the ACLU, black Americans are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite comparable usage rates.”
The letter was signed by Representatives Blumenauer (OR), Cohen (TN), Farr (CA), Grijalva (AZ), Honda (CA), Huffman (CA), Lee (CA), Lofgren (CA), Lowenthal (CA), McGovern (MA), Moran (VA), O’Rourke (TX), Polis (CO), Quigley (IL), Rohrabacher (CA), Schakowsky (IL), Swalwell (CA), and Welch (VT).
“Classifying marijuana as Schedule I at the federal level perpetuates an unjust and irrational system. Schedule I recognizes no medical use, disregarding both medical evidence and the laws of nearly half of the states that have legalized medical marijuana,” the letter continued, “A Schedule I or II classification also means that marijuana businesses in states where adult or medical use are legal cannot deduct business expenses from their taxes or take tax credits due to Section 280E of the federal tax code. We request that you instruct Attorney General Holder to delist or classify marijuana in a more appropriate way, at the very least eliminating it from Schedule I or II.”
You can read the full text of the letter here.
Nearly 30 states, and the District of Columbia are considering marijuana law reform legislation this year, including bills that cover legalization for adults, decriminalization, medical marijuana and hemp. Some states have a variety of reform bills simultaneously pending such as Arizona which is considering legalization and decriminalization, and Pennsylvania which is considering legalization as well as medical marijuana legislation. Here’s a quick breakdown:
14 states are considering legalization: Arizona, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
12 states and the District of Columbia are considering decriminalization: Alabama, Arizona, DC, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wyoming.
11 states are considering legislation to establish effective medical marijuana programs: Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Hawaii, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
3 states are considering allowing industrial hemp cultivation: Indiana, New York, and Tennessee.
Click here to access NORML’s Action Alerts and quickly and easily contact your elected officials to encourage their support of any pending reform bills. Be sure to keep checking NORML’s Take Action Center to see if your state has joined the list!
Delegate Mizeur has made marijuana legalization a central plank in her campaign platform. Under her proposed plan, the state would generate $158 million for early-childhood education, enough to cover 23,600 children annually from revenue produced from regulated marijuana sales.
This reform is desperately needed in Maryland. According to a 2013 ACLU report, Maryland possesses one of the highest rates of marijuana possession arrests of any state in the country. Maryland arrests over 23,000 individuals for simple marijuana possession every year, at the cost over of 100 million dollars. Despite only constituting 30% of the state’s population and having similar use rates to their white counterparts, African Americans account for 58% of the state’s marijuana possession arrests.
“Maryland’s marijuana laws have ruined lives, been enforced with racial bias, and keep law enforcement from focusing their time and resources on more violent crime,” Mizeur stated, “We’re proud to have NORML PAC’s support in the effort to make Maryland the next state to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana.”
Heather is currently the only Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Maryland to support marijuana legalization.
“NORML PAC is pleased to endorse Delegate Heather Mizeur in her campaign to become the next governor of Maryland,” said Erik Altieri, NORML PAC Manager. “We believe Del. Mizeur and her running mate Delman Coates will provide the leadership required to help Maryland move towards a new, smarter approach to marijuana.”
You can learn more about Mizeur’s campaign here.