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US Cattle Inspectors Leave Mexico Amid Drug Prohibition War

Location: 
Mexico
For years, these inspections have been conducted before cattle cross the border, but the drug prohibition war has prompted the U.S. to move some of its operations north. The change, instituted over the past year at three of the 11 ports along the U.S.-Mexico border, is drawing concern from some cattle raisers, who fear infections long eradicated in the U.S. but still showing up in Mexico will spread before inspection. The change is supposed to be temporary, although there are no immediate plans for the American inspectors to return to Mexico.
Publication/Source: 
The Associated Press
URL: 
http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5idZkYEkvtry2zUF_gDH9ojmssENQ?docId=cb6535c7b06342aea72a47456c12c103

Montana Medical Marijuana Industry Fights Back [FEATURE]

In the wake of the passage of a medical marijuana "reform" bill that would criminalize dispensaries and large, multi-patient grows, some dispensary operators and growers are already closing up shop. But others are organizing to undo the legislature's attempt to destroy the industry.

The battle over medical marijuana is far from over in Montana (Image via Wikimedia.org)
The newly formed Montana Cannabis Industry Association (MCIA) has announced that it is moving forward on two fronts: It has hired an attorney to seek a temporary injunction blocking the law from going into effect and it has begun a signature-gathering campaign to put the issue directly to the voters on the November 2012 ballot.

"We are moving forward on the injunction and the referendum," MCIA board member Kate Cholewa told the Chronicle. "The injunction challenges the law. That's one prong. The other prong is the signature-gathering campaign. If we are successful in gathering those signatures, that would keep the law from going into effect and we would be on the ballot in 2012."

Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) vetoed an outright repeal bill passed by the Republican legislature, but he has said that while he finds the second bill unpalatable, he will allow it to become law without his signature. Activists hold little hope that Schweitzer can be persuaded to change his mind before his 10-day period to act ends on Friday.

"That is not something we expect to happen," said Cholewa. "You can't say the door is closed until Friday, but the political environment around here is such that it's unlikely."

Montana voters approved medical marijuana in a 2004 referendum, and the issue was relatively non-controversial until the Obama Justice Department released its October 2009 memo saying that going after people in compliance with state law in states where it is legal was not a high priority. After that, the Montana medical marijuana scene exploded, with the number of patients shooting from 2,000 to 30,000 and the now familiar medical marijuana landscape of dispensaries, grow ups, and supply shops expanding rapidly.

Excesses by some operators in the post-memo period led to a virulent backlash, which was reflected in the legislative session this year. A bill to reasonably regulate medical marijuana that had been crafted over a period of months was amended beyond recognition by foes, who instead then passed the repeal bill. When Schweitzer vetoed that, the Republican leadership responded with the current bill, which also bans any medical marijuana sales, makes it more difficult for people claiming chronic pain to get a recommendation, and mandates investigations -- at their own expense! -- of any doctors who recommend it to more than 25 patients in a year.

This year's legislative session revealed a medical marijuana community that was divided and disorganized. The MCIA is an effort to get growers, dispensary operators, and advocates on the same page for the coming battle.

"The day after the session ended, we all got together in a meeting the next day to figure out what we could do," said Cholewa. "We talked about injunctions and referenda and interview lawyers. We raised $20,000 or $30,000 in 48 hours."

The number has since jumped to more than $50,000, and the MCIA has hired prominent Bozeman attorney James Goetz to challenge the law in court.

"The reality is that this group of legislators came in and instead of regulating the industry, they decided to destroy it with this de facto repeal, said Cholewa. "They were saying that medical marijuana in Montana was a mess, but they've created a mess of a whole different order. It’s about more than marijuana now," Cholewa said. "It's about democracy, the Constitution, health care and the fulfillment of compassionate voter intent. This is big."

It's also about money and the economy. Medical marijuana is a multi-million dollar industry in largely rural Big Sky Country. The state's economy could suffer if the new law takes hold, advocates said. The state Labor Department has estimated that dispensaries and growers have created between 1,000 and 2,000 jobs, a not insignificant number in a state whose population is under a million.

"Medical marijuana has created opportunities here, where there are people having a hard time finding work. If you talk to people in the industry here, they are people who were carpenters or contractors before the bottom fell out; now, they're cannabis entrepreneurs," she said.

It's not just direct employment, either Cholewa pointed out. "The impact spreads through the economy. Commercial spaces got rented, paid ad space got sold, the supply stores and ancillary businesses benefited as well."

But that's already starting to change, Cholewa said. "People have just shut down, they're getting out now," she said. "Growers are hurrying to get their last crops before July 1. The reality of wiping out the supply is looming. There is a lot of legitimate demand, but I don't know where the supply will be coming from."

Prohibition has an all-too familiar solution to the supply problem. It's called the black market. That's what the good people of Montana can look forward to if the new law isn’t stopped in the courts or at the ballot box. The MCIA is doing everything it can to ensure that it is. 

Helena, MT
United States

U.S. Pot Insurance Has Canadian Growers Green with Envy

The growing medicinal marijuana business in the United States despite the drug’s illegal status has many insurance firms seeing green — as in money. But north of the 49th, where there is no federal prohibition on medicinal pot, legal growers are green with envy because it’s next to impossible to get insurance coverage in Canada.
Publication/Source: 
The Hamilton Spectator (Canada)
URL: 
http://www.thespec.com/news/canada/article/515019--u-s-pot-insurance-has-canadian-growers-green-with-envy

Pot Politics on Capitol Hill: Proponents Aim to Shift Industry's Image

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Supporters of decriminalizing marijuana are hoping to build momentum on Capitol Hill after a historic election that saw the politics of pot take center stage in four states. The marijuana industry's public relations campaign has so far been limited to states, especially California, where a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana almost passed in November. But today, the National Cannabis Industry Association, launched in December to represent the interests of legal marijuana growers and distributors, will hold the first congressional lobbying day in the nation's capital, hoping to shore up support for an industry they say could bring billions of dollars in revenue to the government.
Publication/Source: 
ABC News (US)
URL: 
http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/pot-politics-capitol-hill-proponents-aim-shift-marijuana/story?id=13251446

Medical Marijuana Dispensary Selling 'Joints for Japan'

Location: 
Japan
A medical marijuana business is donating 100 percent of the profit from marijuana joints to earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan. Compassionate Pain Management's two Colorado locations in Lakewood and Louisville are selling joints for $5 a piece to those with a medical marijuana card and recommendation. Owner Shaun Gindi has promised profits from sales for at least the next two to three weeks to go to the Red Cross for recovery efforts in Japan.
Publication/Source: 
KUSA (CO)
URL: 
http://www.9news.com/news/sidetracks/189958/337/Medical-marijuana-dispensary-selling-Joints-for-Japan?odyssey=mod|newswell|text|FRONTPAGE|t

California Medical Marijuana Dispensary Plans to Take IRS to Court

Location: 
CA
United States
The IRS is thought to have begun audits on at least 12 medical marijuana dispensaries in California under the determination that past business deductions are invalid because of a clause in the federal tax code prohibiting any business that traffics in Schedule I or II drugs from making business deductions on their tax returns. Lynette Shaw, founder and owner of the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, is hoping to strike back before the IRS can deliver any more "final determinations" to other dispensaries currently being audited. Shaw intends to file an appeal in U.S. Tax Court within the month. There is actually a precedent for just such a case, when in 2007, a San Francisco dispensary primarily catering to terminal AIDS patients got its payment cut down to just over 1 percent of what the IRS originally said it owed in back taxes.
Publication/Source: 
The American Independent (DC)
URL: 
http://www.americanindependent.com/174367/california-medical-marijuana-dispensary-plans-to-take-irs-to-court

Feds Squeeze Banks in Bid to Freeze Out Medical Marijuana [FEATURE]

Special to the Chronicle by Clarence Walker

[Editor's Note: Houston-based crime and criminal justice journalist Clarence Walker is an occasional contributor to the Chronicle. He can be reached at cwalkerinvestigate@gmail.com.]

Federal regulators ignited a firestorm of controversy recently when they ordered banks located in the North Coast area of California to spy on transactions of customers who are suspected of making money in the marijuana business. In a bid to crack down on California's marijuana industry, regulators have ordered banks to look out for suspicious activity by those running such operations, but that is leaving legal -- under state, but not federal law -- medical marijuana businesses out in the cold.

The G-men are putting the squeeze on the banksters over pot proceeds (Image via Wikimedia)
Although DEA and FBI officials are not specifically targeting medical marijuana, they say they are looking for drug traffickers and money launderers, and they regard any marijuana-related banking activities with suspicion. The banks are not being ordered to not do business with dispensaries, but are instead closing accounts rather than put up with the hassles of investigating and reporting those transactions.

Banks in the North Coast region, including Savings Bank, Wells Fargo, the Exchange Bank, and Ukiah Bank, as well as other financial institutions in the Sacramento and San Joaquin areas are scrambling to comply with the government's order as the feds continue their onslaught against the legal marijuana trade.

The enforcement action is the result of the North Coast's widespread reputation for marijuana production and also includes the arrest of citizens in the area operating legal medical marijuana businesses under California state law. California voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996, legalizing the medical use of marijuana for patients whose doctors have recommended they use it.

According to the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, the policy took effect last month when the largest bank in Mendocino County informed shareholders that federal banking regulators would now require the North Coast banks to scrutinize deposit accounts because the area had been designated a high-risk area for money laundering, particularly from those in the medical marijuana business.

"This area in general has been targeted by Washington because the amount of cash that comes out of here," said Charles Mannon, chief executive of the Ukiah Bank.

Mike Johnson, an entrepreneur in the marijuana industry who requested that this article not identify the name of his business, felt the squeeze from the federal regulators when Wells Fargo and the Umpqua Bank closed his accounts last year. "They think we're all drug dealers," Johnson said.

Those in the trade familiar with the feds' regulation policy complain of how the government has forced banks and financial institutions to enlist as foot soldiers in the war on drugs. The new requirements force banks to expend unnecessary time and money probing clients' accounts for evidence of illegal activity associated with the marijuana business, they say.

To bypass the stringent rules, several banks closed the accounts of medical marijuana dispensaries. Bank officers said that since medical marijuana is a violation of federal law, they are required under the Bank Secrecy Act to report on businesses involved in the state authorized medical marijuana industry.

Last year, Exchange Bank issued a policy which prohibits medical marijuana businesses from opening up accounts because of the time-consuming scrutiny they would have to undergo and because of the expense of having to purchase pricey monitoring systems.

"State and federal law are in conflict with each other," said Bill Schrader, president of Exchange Bank. "If there are suspicious activities under federal law, we have to report it."

No room at the bank for medical marijuana? (Image via Wikimedia)
The extensive monitoring of bank accounts works this way: If a bank agent or its anti-laundering system detects suspicious activity, the feds have required banks and credit unions to file a report with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN), which operate massive databases available to the FBI and DEA.

Currently there are 14 states including the District of Columbia allowed to sell medical marijuana legally under state law, but under the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970, marijuana is classified as an illegal Schedule 1 drug.

The federal government cannot force states to comply with federal law or require states to enforce federal law, but the US Department of Justice has the authority to prosecute offenders and organizations in violation of federal law against sales or possession of marijuana. This law effectively blocks banks from dealing with those in the legal marijuana business who must operate business accounts to accept credit and debit cards for their services.

"Our organization is regularly contacted by cannabis businesses that can't make daily deposits or have credit card processing," Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, told the Chronicle. "The inability of cannabusinesses to gain access to regular banking and financial services continues to hamper the expansion of medical cannabis dispensaries."

St. Pierre took a shot at the Department of Justice. "Despite the 2009 'Ogden' memo from the Obama administration's attempt to allow greater autonomy for states to regulate medical cannabis, the memo didn't address the legal concerns expressed by banks and financial services who fear they are violating federal laws if they do business with cannabis businesses."

In May 2010, following several attempts to pass legislation to eliminate federal penalties for medical marijuana, 15 members of Congress, led by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) issued a letter written by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

"Legitimate state-legal businesses are being denied access to banking services, which does not serve the public interest," the letter said. The letter also requested "formal written guidance" to assure banks would not be federally targeted for conducting business with medical marijuana dispensaries.

"They were trying to ensure that medical marijuana dispensaries could have banking services provided to them because there's so much capital involved," said Mike Meno, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project.

It's not just Northern California. Sue Harank is the co-owner of Alpine Herbal Wellness in Denver Colorado. This medical marijuana dispensary has been operating less than a year. Within this time, Harank has been forced to switch banks four times after the institutions closed her accounts without prior warning.

Harank called situation as "one heck of a nightmare." According to Banktime.com, Harank now does business with Colorado State Bank, the only bank in the state allowing people in the legal marijuana trade to hold business accounts.

Don Duncan feels the adverse treatment as well, when dealing with financial institutions. Duncan, the California director of the pro-medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, had his bank accounts shut down without notice. "Banks can't figure out if it's okay to do business with medical cannabis organizations," he said.

US Attorney General Eric Holder issued a memo in October, 2009, expressing administration policy of not utilizing federal resources to pursue "individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana." Despite Holder's direct orders the federal troops still pursue those legally operating marijuana businesses.

"It doesn't make sense. It is an un-American thing for the feds to do," said Mike Johnson. "Every major bank in California has been told not to handle marijuana accounts."

Legal conflicts surrounding the bank's secrecy laws forcing banks to report customers making suspicious deposits has created a "boom" in business for lesser known financial services. According to Banktime.com, Marijuanapos.com  is one of the few institutions to offer banking services, including credit and debit card processing, for legal marijuana businesses.

Jesse Cretaro, the marketing director of Marijuanapos.com, said they work with banks that deal with high-risk clients. Another financial service, Direct Bancard of Livonia, Michigan, offers medical marijuana providers a prime-time Cadillac service. Executive Vice President Martin Khemmoro explained that Direct Bancard often uses merchant services located overseas to bypass legal conflicts.

Guardian Data Systems offer similar services but deals only with medical marijuana dispensaries legal under California state law. Lance Ott, Guardian's chief executive officer said he's been trying for years "to offer honest and secure services to an emerging industry."

Meanwhile dedicated advocates for the medical marijuana industry insist that all they want is for those in the industry to have access to safe and transparent banking services, like other professional entrepreneurs.

"All medical marijuana merchants wants to do is obey the law and do what's normal," said Duncan.

But that's unlikely to happen as long as federal marijuana prohibition remains intact. While the federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries have decreased -- if not ended completely -- the feds have demonstrated that they are determined to use all the weapons in their arsenal to continue to go after what they consider to be a criminal industry.

Hemp House Going Up at North Carolina's Lake Junaluska

Location: 
NC
United States
If you’re looking for a strong, green, energy-efficient building material that’s resistant to pretty much everything, hemp might be your best choice. This is the concept being pitched by Greg Flavall and David Madera, owners of a business called Hemp Technologies. They’re some of the first to build with the material in the United States, where industrial hemp hasn’t seen the rise in popularity it enjoys in other countries, thanks to a federal ban on U.S. production.
Publication/Source: 
Smoky Mountain News (NC)
URL: 
http://www.smokymountainnews.com/news/item/3454-hemp-house-going-up-at-lake-junaluska

Australians Furious As Drug Prohibition War Targets Common Garden-Variety Plants

Location: 
Australia
Australia's Attorney General has proposed to extend the list of prohibited plants to include varieties of acacia and cacti, commonly found in gardens. "This law would make it criminal offence for our staff to supply these plants and our customers to buy them," said Doron Francis of CERES Permaculture & Bushfood Nursery. National and Environmental technical policy manager Dr. Anthony Kachenko said nurseries, horticulturalists and other businesses would be wiped out by the government's "blanket approach" to tackling the drug trade.
Publication/Source: 
The Advertiser (Australia)
URL: 
http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/ipad/garden-variety-drug-war/story-fn6bqvxz-1226020137750

Mexican Drug Prohibition War Affects Texas Farmers

Location: 
TX
United States
And the spillover continues: The bloody prohibition war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives has spread to the Lone Star state's agriculture, where drug traffickers are targeting farmers' livelihoods. Texas farmers and ranchers say confrontations with Mexican drug trafficking organizations are quietly adding up. Several growers and ranchers say their jobs started becoming more dangerous about two years ago.
Publication/Source: 
Fox News (US)
URL: 
http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2011/03/11/mexican-drug-war-affects-texas-farmers/

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