Marijuana-friendly states ask Congress to make banking legal for the weed industry

Recreational marijuana might be having its moment, but that doesn’t mean that all the kinks are worked out. Because of laws that still classify it as an illicit substance on the federal level, the banking industry has yet to warm up to the burgeoning weed business for fear of criminal liability.

To alleviate those fears, a bipartisan group of 18 attorneys general from states with recreational and medical marijuana wants to bring the industry’s financial side out of the shadows, and they’re asking Congress for help in a new letter:

The grey market makes it more difficult to track revenues for taxation purposes, contributes to a public safety threat as cash intensive businesses are often targets for criminal activity, and prevents proper tracking of large swaths of finances across the nation.

To address these challenges, we are requesting legislation that would provide a safe harbor for depository institutions that provide a financial product or service to a covered business in a state that has implemented laws and regulations that ensure accountability in the marijuana industry such as the SAFE Banking Act (S. 1152 and H.R. 2215) or similar legislation.

This would bring billions of dollars into the banking sector, and give law enforcement the ability to monitor these transactions.

The weed industry still largely relies on cash — every dispensary has an ATM in the corner — but a few creative solutions exist. One, a company called CanPay, heralds itself as the “first legitimate debit payment solution for the cannabis industry,” offering consumers an app-based debit account linked to their regular banking accounts that circumvents the laws that discourage banks from working with marijuana retailers.

In a statement, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra cited the Trump administration’s increased pressure on states with legal marijuana as a significant obstacle to an industry that is already generating hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue across states that enacted legalization.

“Congress has the power to protect a growing $6.7 billion industry and the public safety of our communities,” Becerra said in a statement today. “My team at the Department of Justice is committed to implementing and enforcing the law in California in a way that most effectively protects the health and safety of our people.”

The industry was shaken recently by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to rescind Obama-era Justice Department guidance around state and federal tension around the issue, informally known as the “Cole memo.” That guidance acknowledged that while marijuana remained illegal on the national level, federal prosecutors could deprioritize enforcement on the issue, leaving the states to handle legality for themselves.

“There is still a lot we don’t know about what enforcement priorities the Justice Department will implement,” Colorado Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman said in a statement at the time. “I expect, however, that the federal government will continue to focus their enforcement efforts and resources on combatting the gray and black markets and diversion, and not target marijuana businesses who abide by our state’s laws.”

While some state leaders aren’t nervous yet, the shift has made skittish some marijuana-focused businesses and states that are enjoying the tax benefits. Without protective legislation from Congress, a working relationship with the banking industry is out of reach and increased scrutiny from the Justice Department seems imminent.

You can read the full letter, embedded below.

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Marijuana legalization by the numbers

Washington (CNN)Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he is rolling back Obama-era guidelines that stopped the federal government from enforcing its anti-marijuana laws in states that have marijuana-friendly laws, CNN reported Thursday.

The change, depending on how it is administered, could affect states that have legalized marijuana for recreational or medical use — and would go against strong public opinion backing federal deference to state rules.
Federal law says marijuana is illegal, but a majority of states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing or decriminalizing its use for medical reasons. Fewer states have made it legal for recreational purposes, although with California’s official legalization of recreational marijuana in the new year, Sessions’ move could set up a legal showdown between the federal government and the largest and richest US state.
    Eight states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington — plus the District of Columbia allow recreational sales of marijuana. Another 22 states allow only some form of medical marijuana and 15 allow a lesser medical marijuana extract.
    Five years ago, recreational marijuana wasn’t legal anywhere in the United States.
    A broad 64% of Americans say they support the legalization of marijuana, according to a Gallup poll in October — the highest mark in more than four decades of polling.
    The poll shows legalization has support from 72% of Democrats — up from 61% over the last three years — and even a slim majority, 51%, of Republicans — up from just 34% in the same time span.
    Medical marijuana, for its part, has nearly universal support in the United States, according to an August poll from Quinnipiac University. An overwhelming 94% of adults — including 96% of independents, 95% of Democrats and 90% of Republicans — support it.
    A broad three in four Americans, 75%, say they oppose enforcing federal laws against marijuana in states that have legalized medical or recreational use of the drug, according to the same poll. Republicans are most likely to back enforcing federal laws anyway — but that number is still just one in three.
    The latest numbers from the National Institute on Drug Abuse show that 44% of Americans over the age of 12 have used marijuana at least once in their lifetime. A majority, 52%, of people ages 18 to 25 have used it in their lifeline, including 33% in just the last 12 months.
    Legal pot has grown to a $6.6 billion industry, with seven in 10 dollars going for medical marijuana and three in 10 going for recreational marijuana. The overall industry has been projected to quadruple over the next decade, according to New Frontier Data, a research company that analyzes the marijuana industry.

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    Vermont moves to legalize pot as feds signal possible crackdown

    (CNN)On the same day the Justice Department signaled a possible federal crackdown on marijuana use, lawmakers in Vermont passed a bill that would legalize the drug for recreational purposes.

    The state House voted 81-63 on Thursday to pass a bill legalizing possession of a small amount of marijuana, according to legislative records and House Clerk William MaGill.
    “Substance use should be treated as a health care matter, not as a crime,” said Rep. Brian Cina of the state’s Progressive Party, records show. “By passing judgment on others for the way that they deal with pain or seek pleasure, one further fuels the stigma that drives addiction.”
      The bill next heads to the Senate, where it is expected to pass, and Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, has said he will sign it, according to CNN affiliate WCAX.
      The bill is similar to one Scott vetoed last year but includes stricter penalties for stoned drivers and for those who provide pot to children.

      Federal policy in flux

      Lawmakers’ approval came the same day Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded three memos from the Obama administration that had set up a hands-off policy toward marijuana-friendly states.
      Although several states have legalized possession, cultivation and distribution of pot in recent years, marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Sessions’ move indicates the end of the laissez-faire attitude of recent years and gives prosecutors more leeway in deciding whether to commit resources to stopping marijuana use, even in states that have legalized the drug.
      In Vermont, state Sen. Dick Sears, a Democrat, said he wasn’t sure what the new federal guidance would mean locally.
      “I’m not sure how much it will affect us. It might affect our medical marijuana, which would be a bigger concern because that is where the state is regulating and the state is allowing the sale of it,” Sears told WCAX.
      In the US, eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use of marijuana.

      Vermont and marijuana

      Vermont, the “Green Mountain State,” could soon become the first state to legalize marijuana by passing a law in the legislature rather than by use of a ballot measure.
      Long one of the most liberal states in the country, Vermont legalized the use of medical marijuana in 2004 and recently decriminalized possession of a small amount.
      This is Vermont’s second attempt at passing a marijuana bill in the past year. State lawmakers last spring passed a bill legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
      But Scott vetoed the bill, saying it did not adequately protect public safety. He said he was generally a “libertarian” on the issue but asked for more protections against stoned driving and children’s access to marijuana.
      “I am not philosophically opposed to ending the prohibition on marijuana, and I recognize there is a clear societal shift in that direction,” he said at the time. “However, I feel it is crucial that key questions and concerns involving public safety and health are addressed before moving forward.”
      Scott also said he wanted any such bill to include an “impairment testing mechanism” that police could use to determine whether a driver is stoned. However, there is no marijuana Breathalyzer-style product on the market.
      Scott set up a Marijuana Advisory Commission to study the matter. Its report is expected later this month.

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      Medical marijuana supporters worry in light of Sessions’ guidance

      (CNN)January 19 is when more than 1.2 million patients legally using medical marijuana will be watching Congress with great concern.

      That’s when the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment will expire. The amendment essentially stops the Justice Department from spending any federal dollars on prosecuting cannabis-related activities if those activities are allowed under state medical marijuana laws.
      The amendment was extended in the spending bill in December, but unless Congress slips it into another federal spending bill and can pass it before the law expires, the legislative action that US Attorney General Jeff Sessions took Thursday may have a real impact on people who sell or buy medical marijuana.
        Sessions rescinded three memos that relate to federal law enforcement of marijuana laws, the last of which, popularly known as the Cole memo, was 2013 guidance that essentially told the government to back off federal prosecutions of people operating within state marijuana laws.
        In the majority of states — 29 — medical marijuana is legal to varying degrees, and eight states allow recreational sales.
        Raids of medical marijuana establishments continued after the memos went out, but the amendment put an end to those raidsand to other federal efforts to shut down licensed medical dispensaries.
        In rescinding the three memos Thursday, Sessions advised prosecutors to “follow the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions.” He viewed “previous nationwide guidance specific to marijuana enforcement (as) unnecessary.”
        Sessions’ memo didn’t specifically mention prosecuting anyone involved with medical marijuana, but if the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment expires, nothing will stop them, experts said. And Sessions sent a letter to congressional leaders in May arguing against the continued restriction of Justice Department funds for prosecutions, suggesting that such a policy was “unwise,” “particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic.” That letter concluded that marijuana “has significant negative health effects.”
        Congress has maintained that marijuana is a dangerous drug. The DEA has kept it as a Schedule I controlled substance, putting it in the same category as LSD and heroin, with “no current acceptable medical use.” Medical marijuana and CBD oil, which comes from hemp but on the molecular level is the same as CBD from marijuana, are both in this category.
        “I knew the risk. I knew we were breaking the federal law when I started giving it to my daughter Charlotte, but the risk was worth it because it was a matter of life or death,” said Paige Figi of Colorado, whose daughter has a rare form of epilepsy that gives her hundreds of seizures a week that at one point kept her from being able to walk, talk or eat. Charlotte started using CBD oil when she was 5, and it transformed her life.
        “She’s 11 now, and she’s doing great and running around,” Figi said. “This is usually fatal, and she is doing awesome, and for years and years, this is all she has had to take.”
        Figi said she wasn’t surprised by the Sessions move — “nothing surprises me anymore” — but she hopes it may motivate Congress to enact legislation that would at least deschedule CBD, meaning people could use it without breaking federal law. A billto that affectis under consideration in the Senate.
        Though the scientific research on marijuana is still considered limited, users say it helps with chronic pain and sleep problems, among other health benefits. Some studies have shown that it helps with post-traumatic stress disorder.
        Research by Hans Breiter, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, has showed some negative consequences of the drug. Long-term use can negatively impact memory and brain development, particularly in younger users. But he too wants more decriminalization, not less.
        Breiter, who describes himself as conservative, said he would like to remind Sessions that “there is much more consistency in the scientific literature of findings about the detrimental effects of alcohol, which is legal within a strong regulatory framework.” He thinks there needs to be more research on the topic and a more logical legal framework applied to the drug.
        Some states are pushing back against Sessions’ latest guidance, including Colorado and Washington, where medical and recreational marijuana are allowed. Both have said they will continue to defend their laws in court.
        In Michigan, which only began accepting applications for medical marijuana licenses in December, it’s business as usual despite the Sessions memo. Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs said it will “continue to move forward in accepting and processing applications for state operating licenses,” according to a statement from David Harns, the department’s public information officer.

        See the latest news and share your comments with CNN Health on Facebook and Twitter.

        Medical marijuana dispensaries have been calling Americans for Safe Access, a nonprofit working to ensure safe and legal access to marijuana for therapeutic uses and research,for help in figuring out what their next steps will be.
        Steph Sherer, the organization’s executive director, said she had nearly deleted the program it offered to guide dispensaries about raids as the Obama administration relaxed its rules. Now, she’s glad she didn’t, and she said dispensaries should be prepared for anything.
        “I’m very nervous,” she said. The Drug Enforcement Administration “is run out of Washington, and while they are supposed to serve states’ attorneys general, the DEA doesn’t need their permission to do anything in those districts.”
        Polls have shown that the greater majority of Americans do favor medical marijuana. “If we can stay focused, maybe the silver lining is, Congress remembers how important this amendment is and that we need Congress to come up with a permanent solution,” Sherer said.

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        The 6 Most Insane Things Happening Right Now (11/14/17)

        Look, we get it. There’s way too much important news to keep track of, but if you look away, you might miss something. So we’re here to save your sanity by combing through the current headlines and quickly summing up the most ridiculous and/or important stories. Please note that we’re not responsible for any insanity caused by the stories themselves.


        Source: CNN



        Source: Fox 31 Denver


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        Pot entrepreneur and ex-felon fights for black role in California’s budding industry

        When his medical cannabis operation was raided in 2008, Virgil Grant wound up in prison. Now hes back in business, and determined to make space for people of color in an industry thats fast being whitewashed

        Pot entrepreneur and ex-felon fights for black role in California’s budding industry

        When his medical cannabis operation was raided in 2008, Virgil Grant wound up in prison. Now hes back in business, and determined to make space for people of color in an industry thats fast being whitewashed

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        Is marijuana a medical miracle? The truth is, we still don’t know

        Whats the evidence behind medical cannabis? While many attest to its healing powers, research into the full potential has long been legally restricted

        Is marijuana a medical miracle? The truth is, we still don’t know

        Is marijuana a medical miracle? The truth is, we still don’t know

        Whats the evidence behind medical cannabis? While many attest to its healing powers, research into the full potential has long been legally restricted

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        This Pot Company Posts Record Sales as CEO Eyes Deals

        Medical-marijuana company Aphria Inc. posted a 39 percent jump in second-quarter revenue to C$8.5 million ($6.8 million), exceeding the most recently reported figures of larger peer Aurora Cannabis Inc. and giving it the second-highest quarterly revenue of pot-specialty companies globally. Aphria remains upbeat, even as the increased legalization of marijuana is called into question after a move by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to revoke policies that allowed its spread and warnings of a possible de-listing. At a conference in Toronto on Wednesday, Chief Executive Officer Vic Neufeld stated plans for several acquisitions that will target expansion in four more states.

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          Men are calling this gynecologist to try to get medical marijuana

          Weed, dude.
          Image: Shutterstock / Atomazul

          Getting medical cannabis in some states is harder than others. Apparently it’s so difficult in Pennsylvania that dudes are calling up an OB-GYN in an attempt at getting their hands on the stick icky. 

          After some local press revealed that Dr. Liang Bartkowiak of Altoona, Pennsylvania was licensed to prescribe medical marijuana, her office became inundated with phone calls from potential patients looking to book an appointment. The problem? Bartkowiak works at a gynecologist’s office, which treats women exclusively, and most of the phone calls were from men, the Alatoona Mirror reports

          “I was shocked,” Bartkowiak, told the Mirror. “We’re fielding phone calls from male patients who want to schedule appointments.”

          While states like California operate relatively relaxed medical marijuana laws, allowing patients to access the plant with symptoms such as migraines, anxiety, and insomnia, the state of Pennsylvania has much stricter laws, and patients must have a “serious medical condition,” such as Epilepsy, cancer, and severe chronic or intractable pain.

          Because of this, and due to the fact that the program is still quite new, only a number of doctors are allowed to prescribe cannabis as a treatment. Bartkowiak told the Mirror that she sought certification because she treats women with endometriosis and severe pain from surgeries. 

          With the opiate epidemic in full force, doctors like Bartkowiak are seeking alternative medicines in order to help treat pain.

          While providing access to medical marijuana is a big step for Pennsylvania, the state is playing it quite safe by banning the use of smokable flower, following in the footsteps of states like New York. So it’s likely those dudes looking for medical cannabis wouldn’t be able to get access to the pot they were expecting, even if they did qualify.

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          Lawmaker Says Black People Can’t Handle Marijuana Because Of ‘Genetics’

          Put this in your pipe and smoke it: A Kansas lawmaker thinks marijuana should be illegal because he said black people are genetically unable to handle its effects.

          State Rep. Steve Alford (R) spoke out on Saturday against legalizing pot using the type of racist “logic” commonly heard when “Reefer Madness” was considered a serious documentary.

          “What you really need to do is go back in the ’30s, when they outlawed all types of drugs in Kansas [and] across the United States,” Alford said, according to the Garden City Telegram. “One of the reasons why, I hate to say it, was that the African-Americans, they were basically users and they basically responded the worst off to those drugs just because of their character makeup, their genetics and that.”

          You can hear Alford make his anti-cannabis comments in the video below: 

          Kansas is one of the few states that still hasn’t legalized some form of medical marijuana, according to the Associated Press.

          The Telegram pointed out that Alford’s comments appeared to be based on the theories of Harry Anslinger, the founding commissioner of what was then called the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, which was behind the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.

          Some of the very racist and hysterically anti-cannabis quotes attributed to the agency include these whoppers:

          • “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”

          • “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”

          • “Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death.”

          Although Alford, who represents a district in western Kansas, stood by his remarks when questioned after the meeting, he was unable to cite a specific source for his so-called science to the Telegram. However, he admitted he shouldn’t have singled out African-Americans.

          “There are certain groups of people, their genetics, the way their makeup is, the chemicals will affect them differently,” Alford insisted. “What I should have said was drugs affect people differently, instead of being more specific.”

          On Monday, Alford denied that his remarks were racist to AP: “To me, that’s neutral. Basically, I got called a racist, which I’m really not, and it’s just the way people — the interpretation of people. To me, I’m trying to look at what’s really the best for Kansas.”

          Carl Brewer, a Democratic candidate for governor, said Alford’s comments were inappropriate for a politician in 2018.

          “It is hard to believe that in 2018, anyone would support the discredited and racist policies of the Jim Crow-era,” Brewer said in a statement to KSN TV. “No matter one’s feelings on medical marijuana and marijuana legalization, we can all agree that views like those of KS Rep. Alford have no place in our statehouse, in our state or in our country.”

          State Rep. Valdenia Winn (D), who represents part of Kansas City, called Alford’s comments “bizarre.”

          He needs to apologize to somebody, if nothing else the individuals of color in his own community,” she told the Wichita Eagle. 

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