Category Archives: Marijuana News

Eric Holder’s Pot Problem

Twenty states plus the District of Columbia now allow sales of medicinal marijuana, allowing pot prescriptions to treat pretty much any malady, from a headache to a hangnail. Colorado and Washington have legalized the drug for recreational use, too.

Yet federal law still prohibits the possession, use and sale of marijuana for any reason. This dichotomy explains why some banks are reluctant to accept the large amounts of cash that pot purveyors generate — even if the cash is legal under state law.

To redress this, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has promised to issue guidelines to make it easier for marijuana sellers who are operating in accordance with their state laws to use the banking system. Large amounts of cash “just kind of lying around with no place for it to be appropriately deposited,” Holder mused, “is something that would worry me, from a law enforcement perspective.”

The fact is, Holder encouraged those bundles of unbanked cash to be assembled in the first place. Last year, perhaps in a nod to opinion polls showing that a majority of Americans favor marijuana legalization, he said the Justice Department wouldn’t seek to overturn the Colorado and Washington measures. Nor, he said, would Washington interfere with the 20 states that allow medicinal marijuana. Instead, federal drug agencies and prosecutors would leave it to local authorities to enforce marijuana laws.

All of which raises the question: When did it become acceptable for the country’s top law-enforcement officer to decide which federal statutes to enforce and which to ignore? Even those who agree with the broader policy of marijuana legalization should be left uneasy by open defiance of the rule of law.

Under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, which means it has high potential for abuse, serves no medical purpose and isn’t safe even under a doctor’s supervision. As recently as 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, even in states that allow medical marijuana sales, sellers and users can be prosecuted.

Whether or not a law is outmoded, unpopular or overtaken by cultural change, the attorney general doesn’t have the authority to ignore it altogether in half the country. To do so is wrong, and has practical consequences: Holder’s pronouncement caused a surge of cash to flow from the black-market weed business into the regular economy. His guidelines presumably will make it possible for buyers to use credit and debit cards now — and for banks to accept those transactions — without fear of reprisal. But some banks won’t go along.

Banks are subject to federal banking laws, including the anti-money-laundering statute, which discourages large deposits of cash by requiring reams of paperwork to document where it came from and where it went. When regulators don’t enforce the rules, lawmakers haul them in, Holder’s blind eye notwithstanding.

What’s more, in states that allow marijuana sales, a whole new pot economy has grown up, complete with cannapreneurs, growers, equipment makers, transporters and even private-equity financiers. The National Cannabis Industry Association estimates marijuana sales will exceed $2 billion in 2014 and $10 billion by 2019. Nevertheless, a future president could wipe the industry out by regarding the federal prohibition as wise and strictly enforcing the law.

If that happens, the marijuana industry and thousands of employees would be put out of work or forced back underground. Banks would again refuse to accept their cash, dispensaries would have to unplug their ATMs, and Visa and MasterCard would refuse to process marijuana transactions. Sales of the drug would continue, of course, but they would again go untaxed and unregulated.

At any rate, guidelines from Justice wouldn’t be enforceable in court, and therefore wouldn’t provide the legal defense bank lawyers must have before advising their clients there is a safe harbor against prosecution. 

It’s time Congress recognized reality. With 22 states openly in defiance of the federal statute, lawmakers should decide whether to keep the national ban or turn the question of marijuana decriminalization over to the states. Congress could, for example, withdraw marijuana from the Schedule 1 list, recognize that it has useful medical applications and let the states decide whether and where to allow its use.

What shouldn’t be an option is for the Justice Department to look the other way.

Source: Bloomberg.com (USA)
Published: February 2, 2014
Copyright: 2014 Bloomberg L.P.
Contact: view@bloomberg.net
Website: http://www.bloomberg.com/

Eric Holder Says Kids Won’t Be Able To Toke Up

General Eric Holder said Wednesday that just because states are legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes doesn’t mean minors will be able to roll up a joint.

“People cannot buy alcohol I guess now until you’re age… age 21, but young people find ways to get alcohol because adults can have access to it,” Holder said before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I’m not sure that we will see the same thing here given what we have said with regard to our enforcement priorities.”

His comments came as Colorado and Washington state have been implementing new laws allowing recreational pot. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and under questioning, Holder defended the Obama administration’s stance in allowing the states to move forward with their laws while the feds work to make sure the drug doesn’t become available to minors or move across state lines.

“The distribution of marijuana to minors will… will entail a very vigorous federal response,” Holder said.

The Department of Justice is expected to unveil new guidelines that might help banks transact with legal marijuana companies, which are increasingly worried about the dangers of operating all-cash businesses.

Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, a member of the committee, lamented President Barack Obama’s recent comments that marijuana isn’t more harmful than alcohol, saying he was “heartbroken” to hear Obama argue that states’ experiments in legalization should go forward. Sessions said the country had previously worked to“create a hostility to drug use” that shouldn’t recede.

“I think that the use of any drug is potentially harmful,” Holder said of Obama’s comments. “And included in that would be alcohol.”

Sessions was skeptical. “Well, Lady Gaga says she’s addicted to it and it’s not harmless,” he said.

Source: Time Magazine (US)
Author: Maya Rhodan
Published: January 29, 2014
Copyright: 2014 Time Inc.
Contact: letters@time.com
Website: http://www.time.com/time/

Med Marijuana Advocates Meet Florida Ballot Goal

A petition campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Florida has gathered enough signatures to put the issue on November’s general election ballot. Just after noon Friday, county elections officials had validated 710,508 signatures — enough to force a vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to allow growth, sale and possession of marijuana for medical uses.

The Florida Supreme Court could still reject the ballot language — and any vote along with it — but organizers expressed jubilation Friday that an expensive, last minute push at least fulfilled the signature requirements for citizen initiated amendments.

“I’ve spent $4 million, hired the best legal minds in the state of Florida, rallied my army of angels and collected more than 1.1 million signatures in five or six months,” said Orlando trial attorney John Morgan, who took over a small, grass roots petition campaign last year and gave it the clout to get on the ballot.

By law, constitutional amendment campaigns for 2014 require signatures from 683,149 registered voters. Morgan’s group, United for Care, added more than 50,000 signatures Friday to exceed that mark.

Morgan, who has paid about three-quarters of United for Care’s expenses, said the petition drive cost twice as much as he planned, largely because signatures lagged by December and the campaign had to gear up.

By paying professional collectors as much as $4 a signature, United for Care began dumping hundreds of thousands of petitions on beleaguered county elections officials. At the 1.1 million mark, the campaign shut down two weeks ago, then waited to see how many signatures actually came from registered voters.

The rejection rate ran about 30 per cent — typical for large petition campaigns. Still, the Florida Division of Elections reported 50,000 new signature validations on Friday, putting the total over the top.

The campaign also met its other requirement: hitting signature targets in at least 14 of Florida’s 27 congressional districts.

The Tampa Bay area proved to be fertile ground: 165,042 valid signatures came from Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties, nearly one-fourth of the statewide total.

Save Our Society from Drugs, a St. Petersburg advocacy group, down played the significance of Friday’s signature count.

“This really doesn’t change anything,” said Executive Director Calvina Fay. “We are still waiting to hear from the Supreme Court about the ballot language. We believe the language is misleading and are hopeful that the justices will rule soon.

“This also doesn’t change the fact that the initiative is riddled with loopholes that would create de facto legalization in our state. We believe that if this gets to the ballot, Floridians will vote wisely and reject it.”

Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. Constitutional amendment proposals in Florida require 60 percent of votes cast to pass, but polls show widespread support for medical marijuana.

The measure also could affect the governor’s race. Republican Gov. Rick Scott opposes medical marijuana while former Republican governor Charlie Crist — the presumptive Democratic candidate who works at Morgan’s firm — favors it.

In the Legislature, Republican majority leadership has so far squelched attempts to legalize medical marijuana by statute.

That could change this year with a bill to legalize Charlotte’s Web, a cannabis strain that seems to help children with seizure disorders without getting them high. The idea has garnered some Republican support, but some fear opening the door to wider use.

The Florida Supreme Court has until April 1 to decide if United for Care’s ballot language is confusing and illegal. If the court agrees, United for Care’s signatures will be invalid. Any future ballot initiatives would have to start from scratch and could not come to a vote until 2016 at the earliest.

Source: Tampa Bay Times (FL)
Author: Stephen Nohlgren, Times Staff Writer
Published: January 24, 2014
Copyright: 2014 St. Petersburg Times
Website: http://www.tampabay.com/
Contact: http://www.sptimes.com/letters/