Florida -- Petitions are hitting the streets soon for a new proposed constitutional amendment that would fully legalize marijuana use, possession and cultivation by adults in Florida.
A political action committee called Floridians For Freedom, associated with a longtime marijuana advocacy group called the Florida Cannabis Action Network, announced Tuesday it has gotten state approval to begin seeking signatures to get their measure on the November, 2016, ballot.
Washington, D.C. -- State lawmakers are calling on the federal government to change its drug laws to let states experiment with marijuana and hemp policy.
The National Conference of State Legislatures, the de facto bipartisan group of lawmakers, passed a resolution at its annual meeting Thursday calling on the federal government to amend the Controlled Substances Act to authorize state marijuana laws and on the administration to keep its nose out of state pot policies.
USA -- Every morning, former Air Force senior airman Amy Rising makes breakfast for her second-grader, drives him to school and returns home to prepare what she calls her medicine.
She suffers from severe anxiety after four years working in the frenetic global command center at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, coordinating bombings and other missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rising says she has found a treatment that helps her cope. But her local Veterans Affairs hospital does not provide it — because her medicine is a joint.
Colorado's 40 casinos — and hundreds of others, including in the gaming mecca in Las Vegas — are bound by the same money-reporting rules that have made banks reluctant to let legal marijuana businesses open bank accounts, federal authorities now say.
That means casinos can keep anyone associated with legal weed enterprises — from dispensary to grow operations — away from gaming tables anywhere in the country.
And if they do allow them to play, casinos must file the same suspicious activity reports banks must file whenever they handle money derived from pot profits, according to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a division of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
"FinCEN's guidance applies to all financial institutions covered under FinCEN regulations, including casinos," FinCEN's public affairs director Stephen Hudak told The Denver Post.
Because the government says casinos are financial institutions, like banks, they must have stringent anti-money-laundering programs in place.
Filing suspicious activity reports, or SARs, to crack down on money laundering by criminal and terrorist organizations is not new for casinos.
What is new is that it now extends to the legal marijuana trade.
While FinCEN in February announced how banks could work with legal marijuana businesses, the government only now realized it extends to casinos.
That's in any casino in the country — whether in Colorado, Atlantic City or Las Vegas — on land, on water or on sovereign American-Indian soil. So a casino on the Las Vegas strip would, by law, have to pay attention to the owner of a marijuana dispensary in Colorado who heads there to gamble.
Currently, 22 states have legalized the sale of medical marijuana and two — Colorado and Washington — have legalized recreational sales. Colorado and 41 other states have some form of legal casino gambling.
The news — revealed June 12 at a Las Vegas conference directed at curtailing money laundering — has stopped state regulators and the casino industry in its tracks.
"The (Colorado) Division of Gaming was unaware of the FinCEN guidance," spokeswoman Cameron Lewis told The Post. "Division management will be taking this matter under discussion."
Similarly, the Colorado Gaming Association, the trade group that represents the state's casinos, was unaware of the requirement.
"To my knowledge, we have not been contacted by FinCEN regarding any issues dealing with ... marijuana suppliers," executive director Lois Rice said.
Like banks, casinos must "know their customer" and have some knowledge of their source of funds. The casino industry keeps close track of gamblers through a variety of methods including high-roller clubs, frequent-player programs and other in-house incentives.
"Casinos most comply with the government's guidance on filing suspicious-activity reports" said Jim Dowling, an anti-money-laundering consultant.
"Their alternative is to not conduct a financial transaction with these individuals who were involved directly, or indirectly in the MJ business," said Dowling, a former IRS agent who was also an adviser on money-laundering issues to the White House.
Because marijuana is illegal under federal law, FinCEN's requirements for doing business with the marijuana industry modified how financial institutions are to file SARs.
The reports must now reflect that clients are in states where marijuana sales are allowed.
Although the pot industry saw it as a first step in obtaining banking services — and more recent efforts have included the theoretical creation of a marijuana financial cooperative — Colorado banks have mostly shied from opening the door too widely.
The marijuana-specific reports would either identify the cannabis-related business or employee as legally operating under appropriate guidelines, identify them as one conducting suspicious activity, or as one where the casino has ended its banking relationship "in order to maintain an effective anti-money-laundering" compliance program.
The seven-page guidance also notes a number of "red-flag" scenarios that would require a bank or casino to file a SAR, including for a customer "depositing cash that smells like marijuana" who might be trying to conceal involvement in marijuana-related business activity.
"There are a number of ways money laundering can occur in a casino," Dowling said, "and keeping track of this is very labor-intensive."
FinCEN Director Jennifer Shasky Calvery told attendees at the Las Vegas conference that it's no secret casinos are targets of organized crime.
"Illicit actors are also looking to game the system so that they can move or hide funds among the many cash and non-cash transactions you conduct daily," she said. "Think about what happens each time a customer enters your casino. Often, the first thing a customer does is conduct a financial transaction — they buy chips. And the last action a customer takes is usually also a financial transaction — they cash out those chips."
Casinos, like banks, must know who is bringing them money, she said, and meeting that obligation relies on the casino's ability to understand with whom it is doing business.
"It's one thing when it's organized crime or terrorist money laundering, when the individuals might be unknown," Dowling said. "It's quite another matter when it's a licensed business and the individuals associated with it are indeed known."
With a dispensary's difficulty in obtaining a banking relationship, casinos could become an easy substitute.
For instance, "chip walking" — when chips are not redeemed — is a well-known problem at casinos. A marijuana business without a bank account could choose to pay its employees with casino chips, which are redeemed for cash, a transactions that is, by definition, now laundered.
Chips purchased with marijuana-derived funds also can be redeemed for cash or a casino's check, which could then be deposited into a personal bank account.
Though Colorado has a $100 limit on the size of a bet, there is no limit on how many chips a customer can purchase. FinCEN's rules require casinos to file SARs when it "knows, suspects, or has reason to suspect" a transaction is suspicious, but only when the amount of money involved — typically buy-ins or cash-outs — is at least $5,000, at once or in a single day.
US Gov: Marijuana Arrests for Federal Funding?
The United States government has been dangling the proverbial carrot in the faces of law enforcement agencies all across America in a ploy to exchange minor marijuana-related arrests for federal funding under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant.
Instead of awarding additional funds to law enforcement agencies that make devastating busts that affect the bottom line of the drug cartels, this program pays police agencies a significant bonus for making minor marijuana arrests -- a discrepancy in the system that has become just as much a problem for rural communities as it is in big cities.
“Although the government claims [byrne grant money] goes toward apprehending high-level traffickers, it’s often very low level people who get arrested. It targets low-income people and people of color much more than anyone understands,” Harry Levine, a drug policy expert and sociologist at Queens College, told AlterNet.
Funds from the Byrne grant program are distributed each fiscal year to law enforcement agencies based on drug arrest and seizure criteria from the previous year. Those standards, which are consistent state-to-state, include: number of offenders arrested, number of offenders prosecuted, number of drug seizures, quantity by weight and drug type, and total value of funds and assets forfeited.
The Marijuana Arrest Research Project recently set out to dissect the Byrne Reports of 20 states, in which they uncovered a ghastly agenda against the stoner nation. It seems that law enforcement’s bullying tactics against the average marijuana user is the most productive group to shakedown, seizing 232,006 ounces of marijuana in the state of Tennessee in 2011.
To make things worse, the report cosigns what most marijuana advocates have been privy to for some time -- marijuana possession is the most profitable “drug” offense across the country. In Arizona, police agencies nailed more people for marijuana possession (42 percent) than for any other drug – methamphetamine (26 percent), cocaine (nine percent). It does not take a genius to see that if police stopped arresting citizens for marijuana, their funding would be severed almost in half.
The report finds that police agencies have been using Byrne funds to pay their force and assist them in fulfilling their equipment wish list, rather than using the money as it is intended -- to finance special narcotics departments. “With Byrne grant money, the police can buy all kinds of stuff -- police cars, bullet proof vests, computers, bullets -- buy whatever they want,” said Levine.
Essentially, local police departments are being rewarded with bonus money to finance salaries and new toys for officers based on the number of non-violent marijuana possession arrests they make each year.
Of course, pressure to maintain this funding has given law enforcement and local municipalities the will to aggressively pursue, arrest and prosecute the average marijuana user. Ultimately, the Byrne grant program is funding foot soldiers fighting the War on Drugs and in doing so, intensifying the battle rather working towards a unified surrender.