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If You Really Want Legal Marijuana to Be Safe and Organized Crime Free, Let Them Use Banks

The Obama administration now claims their main goals in states that legalize marijuana is to make it safe, tightly regulated, and kept away from organized crime. The problem is their other marijuana policies create huge hurdles for the legitimate cannabis industry’s efforts to live up to these goals

The new memo from the Department of Justice claims they are primarily focused on eight priorities in states that approved medical or recreational marijuana. Four of them are:

  • Preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels;
  • Preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;
  • Preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity;
  • Preventing violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana

The memo acknowledges tight state regulations may affirmatively address these problems and the states’ marijuana regulatory system that effective fulfill these goals will likely left alone by the feds.

At the same time though, a different set of policies from the DOJ is knee-capping states’ attempts to do just that.

Currently, dispensaries can’t use banks like normal businesses. The DEA scared banks into no longer accepting accounts for state-legal marijuana companies. This forced many to be all-cash enterprises. Then, to make matters worse, DEA started putting pressure on professional security and armored vehicle companies to stop doing business with dispensaries.

Large amounts of cash without proper security is an open invitation for problems. It makes them targets for criminals, increasing the chance of violence involving firearms.

The lack of proper banking services and use of credit cards makes it harder to audit the industry. Tracking purchases and expenses becomes significantly more difficult. Effectively mandating companies be cash-only operations can also end up attracting criminal organizations looking to launder money.

At least half of the priorities the DOJ now claims to care most about regarding state legalized cannabis are all problems that other DOJ policies are actually making significantly worse. It is almost as if part of the DOJ is trying to set up states to fail.

If the Obama administration is sincere about truly advancing these priorities while taking a mostly hand-off approach they need to again allow the legal marijuana industry to use banks. This one simply step by the administration would go a long way to help assuring the industry is safe and crime-free.

Photo by David under Creative Commons license

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at