Archive for the ‘eric holder’ category

Eric Holder’s Pot Problem

February 3rd, 2014

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

January 29th, 2014

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/

Holder Announced A Major Shift On U.S MJ Policy

January 24th, 2014

U.S. treasury and law enforcement agencies will soon issue regulations opening banking services to state-sanctioned marijuana businesses even though cannabis remains classified an illegal narcotic under federal law, Attorney General Eric Holder said on Thursday.

Holder said the new rules would address problems faced by newly licensed recreational pot retailers in Colorado, and medical marijuana dispensaries in other states, in operating on a cash-only basis, without access to banking services or credit.

Proprietors of state-licensed marijuana distributors in Colorado and elsewhere have complained of having to purchase inventory, pay employees and conduct sales entirely in cash, requiring elaborate and expensive security measures and putting them at a high risk of robbery.

It also makes accounting for state sales tax-collection purposes difficult.

“You don’t want just huge amounts of cash in these places,” Holder told the audience at the University of Virginia. “They want to be able to use the banking system. And so we will be issuing some regulations I think very soon to deal with that issue.”

Holder’s comments echoed remarks by his deputy, James Cole, in September during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill.

Colorado this month became the first state to open retail outlets legally permitted to sell marijuana to adults for recreational purposes, in a system similar to what many states have long had in place for alcohol sales.

Washington state is slated to launch its own marijuana retail network later this year, and several other states, including California, Oregon and Alaska, are expected to consider legalizing recreational weed in 2014.

The number of states approving marijuana for medical purposes has also been growing. California was the first in 1996, and has since been followed by about 20 other states and the District of Columbia.

But the fledgling recreational pot markets in Colorado and Washington state have sent a new wave of cannabis proprietors clamoring to obtain loans and make deposits in banks and credit unions.

The Justice Department announced in August that the administration would give new latitude to states experimenting with taxation and regulation of marijuana.

But with the drug still outlawed at the federal level, banks are barred under money-laundering rules from handling proceeds from marijuana sales even in states where pot sales have been made legal.

The lack of credit for marijuana businesses, however, poses its own criminal justice concerns, Holder said.

“There’s a public safety component to this,” he said. “Huge amounts of cash – substantial amounts of cash just kind of lying around with no place for it to be appropriately deposited – is something that would worry me just from a law enforcement perspective.”

Holder did not offer any specifics on a timeline for action on banking services for marijuana. Cole in September said the Justice Department was working on the issue with the Treasury Department’s financial crimes enforcement network.

Critics of liberalized marijuana laws have said the lack of credit faced by pot retailers was beside the point.

“We are in the midst of creating a corporate, for-profit marijuana industry that has to rely on addiction for profit, and that’s a much bigger issue than whether these stores take American Express,” said Kevin Sabet, co-founder of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

Reporting by David Ingram in Charlottesville, Virginia; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Steve Gorman and Lisa Shumaker

Source: Reuters (Wire)
Author: David Ingram, Reuters
Published: January 24, 2014
Copyright: 2014 Thomson Reuters

Department of Justice to Create Marijuana Industry Banking Regulations

January 24th, 2014
Holder 00

Attorney General Eric Holder

On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced his intent to craft regulations that would allow banking services for legitimate marijuana businesses throughout the country. Banks and credit card companies have been wary of working with marijuana businesses for fear of federal prosecution and loss of licensing, causing serious issues with public safety and hampering the growth of the industry. Advocates are hopeful that this statement directly from Holder, proposing regulations instead of guidance memos, signals a growing tolerance of marijuana policy reform among the states.

MPP’s Dan Riffle discussed the issues facing marijuana businesses on Marketplace on NPR this morning.

Feds To Issue Banking Guidelines For Businesses Engaged In Cannabis Commerce

January 24th, 2014

Federal officials are poised to unveil new regulations allowing for financial institutions to legally interact with licensed businesses that are engaged in cannabis commerce.

United States Attorney General Eric Holder announced the forthcoming guidelines yesterday in a speech at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.

“You don’t want just huge amounts of cash in these place. They (retail facilities that dispense cannabis) want to be able to use the banking system,” Holder said. “And so we (the Obama administration) will be issuing some regulations I think very soon to deal with that issue.”

Presently, federal law discourages financial institutions from accepting deposits or providing banking services for facilities that engage in cannabis-related commerce because the plant remains illegal under the US Controlled Substances Act. While the Obama administration is unlikely to amend cannabis’ illegal status under federal law, the forthcoming rules are anticipated to provide clear guidelines for banks that wish to provide support for state-licensed cannabis facilities.

In Colorado, where retail stores began legally selling cannabis on January 1 to anyone age 21 and older, businesses were estimated to have engaged in over $5 million in marijuana sales in their first week of business.

UN Losing Support for War on Drugs

December 3rd, 2013

The US has been the major proponent for the international war on drugs, yet Eric Holder resisted pressure from the UNUN logo to sue Washington and Colorado over regulating marijuana last March. Now, a rough draft of a document detailing the United Nation’s future plans for combating illicit drug use has been leaked and reported by the Guardian.

The document, still a rough draft, is meant to ultimately form the UN’s statement on drug policy to be released in the Spring. The draft shows some difference of opinion, particularly among South American countries.  According to the document, many countries are ready to end the United States-led plan of prohibition and focus on rehabilitation and treatment for drug users. Columbia, Guatemala, and Mexico have argued that prohibition allows the market to be controlled by dangerous cartels, while Venezuela is calling for a discussion of the economic implications of current drug policy. The European Union also indicated that the final document should include treatment as an alternative to incarceration for drug dependent offenders.

Support for a policy shift from incarceration to treatment has been growing steadily over the years according to the Seattle Post Intelligencer, which cites statements from international leaders and a 2002 committee for the European Parliament, among other indicators. Apparently, the now clear difference in opinion is anything but new.

“The idea that there is a global consensus on drugs policy is fake,” said Damon Barrett, deputy director of the charity Harm Reduction International. “The differences have been there for a long time, but you rarely get to see them. It all gets whittled down to the lowest common denominator, when all you see is agreement. But it’s interesting to see now what they are arguing about.”

Click here to read more about international marijuana policies.

Marijuana Likely To Be Decriminalized in D.C.

October 28th, 2013

Before long, smoking a joint in the nation’s capital might get you in even less trouble than parking on the wrong side of the street on street-cleaning day.

Ten of 13 members of the D.C. Council and Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) have endorsed a plan to make small-time marijuana possession a civil rather than a criminal offense. That means recreational cannabis users wouldn’t face arrest, charges or jail time — any of which can destroy their lives — as long as they aren’t caught with more than an ounce of the drug. Instead, they would have to pay a fine, perhaps as low as $25. (The mayor also wants criminal penalties to remain for anyone caught using it in public.)

Much of the debate over the idea has focused on an American Civil Liberties Union report that suggests that the District and many other jurisdictions enforce their anti-marijuana laws unfairly, disproportionately arresting African American suspects. On these pages, Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier pushed back, insisting that factors such as a geographic concentration of tips about marijuana users, not biased policing, are responsible for the city’s arrest figures.

That debate does not need to be resolved to conclude that maintaining criminal penalties for small-time users of any race doesn’t make sense.

Enforcing criminal penalties against those who aren’t involved in trafficking or selling the drug would be too harsh and a waste of government resources. As it stands, very few people in the District are prosecuted for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana, unless there are other charges to go along with it. But even an arrest can make it difficult to find a good job.

Refraining from enforcing criminal penalties, on the other hand, would promote disrespect for the law.

An all-around better policy, long championed by District lawyer Paul Zukerberg, would be to slap small-time users with a civil fine, which is a measured way to send a message that the government does not condone or tolerate marijuana use. No one’s life would be permanently marred by getting caught with a joint. But violators would still have to pay, literally. In that vein, we would suggest that $25 — a smaller fine than that attached to low-level parking violations — is too modest a penalty. Maryland lawmakers considered setting a $100 fine this year, the same level that New York state approved last year. That sounds like the right size.

Attitudes about marijuana are changing, and quickly. A recent Gallup poll found that an astonishing 58 percent of Americans now favor legalizing the drug. Colorado and Washington state have both tried to do just that by changing their drug laws. Federal law still treats marijuana as an illicit substance, but Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced a policy this year that aims federal resources at high-level offenders. And now the District government is poised to join the 15 states that have decriminalized small-time pot possession.

Of all the official reactions to changing mores on marijuana, decriminalization is the best.

Source: Washington Post (DC)
Published: October 27, 2013
Copyright: 2013 Washington Post Company
Contact: letters@washpost.com
Website: http://www.washingtonpost.com/

Can The United Nations Block US MJ Legalization?

September 25th, 2013

The United Nations International Narcotics Control Board’s latest annual report expressed dismay at the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado and urged “the Government of the United States to take necessary measures to ensure full compliance with the international drug control treaties in its entire territory”. This led many media outlets to report that the U.S. had violated the UN drug control treaties to which it is a signatory. U.S. obligations under the treaties, and indeed the broader international future of marijuana legalization, are complex matters. But the essential points can be summarized in a 4-part Q&A.

1. Is the U.S. currently in violation of the UN treaties it signed agreeing to make marijuana illegal? No. The U.S. federal government is a signatory to the treaty, but the States of Washington and Colorado are not. Countries with federated systems of government like the U.S. and Germany can only make international commitments regarding their national-level policies. Constitutionally, U.S. states are simply not required to make marijuana illegal as it is in federal law. Hence, the U.S. made no such commitment on behalf of the 50 states in signing the UN drug control treaties.

Some UN officials believe that the spirit of the international treaties requires the U.S. federal government to attempt to override state-level marijuana legalization. But in terms of the letter of the treaties, Attorney General Holder’s refusal to challenge Washington and Colorado’s marijuana policies is within bounds.

2. Can the UN punish countries that legalize marijuana? Only to a small degree. The UN International Narcotics Control Board is the keeper of the drug treaties and regularly chastises governments that violate their commitments. This can be embarrassing in international diplomatic circles, but no nation has ever collapsed due to embarrassment.

Because the International Narcotics Control Board has power over the production and transport of the legal medical supply of drugs it could in theory punish a country that legalized marijuana by imposing punitive controls on pain medications. But the international humanitarian outcry over such an action would be enormous. Further, the countries that produce the most opiate painkillers are not easy to push around (e.g., Australia, India, The United States). It is thus safe to assume that crimping the medical supply of drugs is a trigger that the Narcotics Control Board is not going to pull.

3. Does the entire UN drug treaty system need to be undone in order for countries to legalize recreational marijuana? No. Marijuana is just one of many psychoactive substances made illegal by the UN drug control treaties. Some drug legalization activists hope that if support for marijuana legalization grows internationally, it will require all UN drug treaties to be revised, thereby granting an opportunity to legalize cocaine, heroin and every other drug at the same time. This is a misreading both of international political sentiment and UN protocol.

Even among nations with some sympathy towards marijuana legalization, there is minimal enthusiasm for allowing, say, the Phillip Morris corporation to sell cocaine legally throughout the world as it does cigarettes. If the price of changing UN treaties regarding marijuana is legalizing all drugs, many otherwise sympathetic nations will vigorously oppose the action.

But as it happens, it’s a moot point because under U.N. protocol, new treaties supersede old treaties. Thus, if the nations of the world ever agree that they want to legalize recreational marijuana, they can write a new treaty focused just on that drug. This would nullify only the marijuana-related provisions of the overall UN drug control framework, leaving the status of other currently illegal drugs unaffected.

4. Wouldn’t a new UN marijuana drug treaty just be a vehicle for the U.S. to push its tough marijuana policies worldwide? Get ready for a surprise. If all nations adopted current U.S. marijuana policy, the result would be significant relaxation of international control over marijuana. Prior to the Obama Administration, a Rand Corporation study found that the level of marijuana enforcement in the U.S. was similar to that of Western Europe. Since Obama was elected, marijuana enforcement intensity has plummeted and the federal government has dropped its longstanding opposition to state-level marijuana decriminalization and legalization efforts.

Last but not least, remember that the only legal recreational marijuana markets in the world are not in the Netherlands or in Portugal but right here in the United States. Transplanting current U.S. marijuana policy worldwide via a new UN treaty would mean somewhat more liberal marijuana control policy in Europe, and dramatically more relaxed policy in most of Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

In short, supporters of marijuana legalization don’t really need to worry about the UN drug control treaties. Whether marijuana legalization sweeps the world or not depends on something far more fundamental: What people around the world decide is the best approach to the drug.

Source: Huffington Post (NY)
Author: Keith Humphreys, Professor of Psychiatry, Stanford University
Published: September 25, 2013
Copyright: 2013 HuffingtonPost.com, LLC
Contact: scoop@huffingtonpost.com
Website: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

New DOJ Charging Policy to be Applied to Pending Cases

September 23rd, 2013
Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder

In August, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the DOJ would avoid prosecuting low-level, non-violent drug offenders with harsh charges that carry mandatory minimums.

Today, a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities. However, many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem, rather than alleviate it.

Now, the DOJ has taken another step and announced that the new policy will also apply to persons who have been charged but not yet tried and persons who have been tried but not yet sentenced. The attorney general instructed his prosecutors to re-file charges in these cases so that low-level offenders will not be subjected to disproportionate sentences.

I am pleased to announce today that the department has issued new guidance to apply our updated charging policy not only to new matters, but also to pending cases where the defendant was charged before the policy was issued but is still awaiting adjudication of guilt. 

This announcement comes in the wake of a statement by the DOJ last month that the federal government would allow states to continue with their plans to regulate and tax marijuana without interruption, so long as they meet certain criteria.

Holder Expands Changes in Drug-Case Policy

September 22nd, 2013

The Justice Department is expanding a major change in federal drug sentencing policy to cover pending drug cases, Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday.

Last month, Holder said certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders — those without ties to large-scale organizations, gangs or cartels — no longer will be charged with offenses that impose severe mandatory minimum sentences.

Holder said he now has broadened the new policy to cover defendants who have not yet been convicted in drug cases that could involve lengthy mandatory prison sentences. The policy also may be applied, at the discretion of prosecutors, to a defendant who has entered a guilty plea, but has not yet been sentenced.

Mandatory minimum prison sentences, a legacy of the government’s war on drugs, limit the discretion of judges to impose shorter prison terms.

Holder says the government should reserve the most severe prison terms for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers.

“Some federal drug statutes that mandate inflexible sentences — regardless of the individual conduct at issue in a particular case — do not serve public safety when they’re applied indiscriminately,” Holder told a criminal justice issues forum of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this week, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said that in one case, a first-time offender arrested with less than 2 ounces of cocaine was sentenced to 10 years in prison because of mandatory sentencing guidelines. Paul has drafted legislation along with committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., that would give judges wider sentencing discretion as one way to relieve prison overcrowding and bring down the exploding costs of operating prisons.

Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Author: Pete Yost, The Associated Press
Published: September 19, 2013
Copyright: 2013 The Associated Press