It’s no secret by now that federal cannabis prohibition forces many businesses in the industry to operate on a cash-only basis. An amendment that would have protected financial institutions from federal prosecution probably would have done a great deal to alleviate some of these issues that cannabis entrepreneurs and business owners face. But senators blocked the amendment on Thursday by a 21-10 vote. The decision made by the Senate Appropriations Committee now tables the amendment, but it could be brought back up at a later date.
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) sponsored the measure, claiming that the current regulations facilitate criminal activity. “Cash-only businesses are a big problem because it’s great for organized crime, it’s great for money laundering, it’s great for theft and larceny, it’s great for cheating on taxes, it’s great for cheating on your payroll,” Sen. Merkley said. “We’re really facilitating crime by not enabling the banking industry to provide basic services.”
This is a bit of a curious statement, as there doesn’t seem to be much evidence to support Merkley’s claim that the legal cannabis industry facilitates more organized criminal activity than any other market. In fact, legal cannabis helps put drug cartels out of business. Illegal drug sales will never fully go away, but legalization does help. There are plenty of businesses that operate under a cash-only model, yet those professionals aren’t lumped in with organized crime syndicates the way that marijuana professionals are.
Of course, there will be people buying legal cannabis in one state and taking it back home where they live in a state where it’s illegal – but by no means is that organized crime, cheating on taxes, theft or larceny. Even many of the politicians who seemingly support an end to cannabis prohibition are still stuck in the prohibitionist mindset. Senators in opposition to the measure claimed that it would cause confusion.
“I’ve supported it in the past and I think it’s different today,” Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) said. “It adds a level of confusion to the folks who are out there doing business. Do I think these businesses ought to be able to bank? Absolutely.”
Tester added that it would give a “false hope” to cannabis businesses because it only deals with the Department of the Treasury and not the Justice Department. Naturally, cannabis advocates were disappointed with the vote.
“The Senate Appropriations Committee chose to bury its head in the sand rather than make it easier for licensed and regulated marijuana businesses to operate safely, transparently or effectively,” said Justin Strekal, of NORML. “It’s absurd.”