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Medical marijuana a hard sell to banks – an easy sell to recreational users

Post by Brian O'Neill on May 1, 2012 at 10:16 pm with 20 Comments »
May 1, 2012 10:17 pm

In the last couple of years dispensing medical mariajuana has moved out of dark alleys and into storefronts. As scientific research confirms its benefits, public perception appears to be warming up to the idea of cannabis as legitimate medication. In the near future this progress could lead to a stable industry that provides a secure source of a legitimate prescription medicine.

If only recreational pot users would stop sabotaging the program.

AP Image

Medical marijuana remains a chaotic business model in large part because of the legalization advocates themselves. These folks  - who are vocal, if nothing else – loudly denounce the criminalization of marijuana. They seek to compare the current criminal statutes as a modern day prohibition against a drug that, like alcohol, they feel should be a legal part of our society.

Whether they are right or wrong is a matter for either personal interpretation, public discussion or both. What is undoubtedly wrong in this equation, however, is the mad rush to obtain medical marijuana prescriptions by people whose chief objective is to get stoned.

Let’s be fair. One day people may wonder why using marijuana was ever considered to be any different than tossing back a cocktail. The passage of time has nullified the stigma of select social phenomena (rap music is now a staple at the Grammy’s) while stigmatizing others (smokers don’t feel the love anymore). If the past is any indication, marijuana may one day be a legal product. I’ll stick to beer, though, thanks.

The problem is that the future is not now. Now we have murky legislation that, at best, provides a slim loophole through which medical dispensaries have forced passage. Now these psuedo-pharmacies have set up websites, taken out newspaper ads, and hawked their wares on city streets (dressed in green scrubs, no less), all promising to provide a quick and easy medical marijuana permit. Transaction immediately following.

If you are a true proponent of medical marijuana – and after watching my mother-in-law suffer through chemo, I count myself one – then recognize that these recreational users are the real impediment to a safe, professional and wholly legal dispensary system.

The U.S. Attorney General’s Office apparently agrees. As a Trib article (5/1) relates, a deputy U.S. Attorney issued a warning to banks which “engage in transactions involving the proceeds” of marijuana sales, stating they “may be in violation of federal money-laundering statutes and other financial laws.”

Yes, these would be the same banks which allegedly violated numerous SEC regulations regarding mortgage loans, effectively sending the country into the Great Recession. We can laugh at the irony, but that won’t change the fact that marijuana dispensaries are finding it difficult or impossible to open bank accounts. Without those accounts, writing payroll checks, keeping accurate books and preparing taxes are impossible tasks.

That is truly unfortunate. With so many people looking for jobs, with tax revenues in the toilet, and with our government promising to facilitate new business, we need to take another look at marijuana as a suitable medical treatment. If indeed it is, then we should have the good grace, and good sense, to adjust our fiscal policies.

To move forward with medical marijuana, we need to realize that the real struggle is not with police officers who have sworn an oath to uphold the law. It is not a fight against prosecutors who are bound by their duty to prosecute the crimes that violate our laws. If anything, it is a matter for government officials who need to do a better job understanding the science and then acting upon the will of the people. They need to fix this mess.

In the meantime, those who obtained a medical marijuana permit without a vital need should return it. They are only raining on their own parade.

Leave a comment Comments → 20
  1. rivitman says:

    Aye. Well said.

  2. FlutieF says:

    “If only recreational pot users would stop sabotaging the program.”

    Huh??? Medical marijuana is being sabotaged by PROHIBITION, not by cannabis users. Blaming the problems of medical marijuana on cannabis users is tantamount to blaming slavery on the slaves. It’s like saying, if only those “uppity” slaves would behave themselves then all us well-behaved slaves wouldn’t have to suffer.

    As long as recreational users are criminalized, patients will be as well – no matter how well they behave!

  3. Gandalf says:

    In your first seven paragraphs you’re arguing that recreational users are hurting medicinal marijuana from ever being taken seriously. Then you make an abrupt segue into banks not loaning money to these “clinics”. Neither have anything but a tenuous link at best to each other. Banks don’t loan money to criminal activities (as you point out) not the perception of it’s clients.

    And in California, they had the opportunity to legalize weed, but failed. Not because of the public’s perception of medicinal marijuana clinics. It failed because the growers and dealers didn’t want to see their tax free money stream to end and lobbied hard to defeat it.

    Your only point that was true is that the politicians are the ones that need to clean this mess up, but when looking at the size and scope (and the money) involved in the “war on drugs” you can plainly see that there’s too much money and jobs on the line on both sides to give it up. Do you really think the DEA supports ending the war on Pot? Or the military industry supplying the agents with weapons, armor, clothing, equipment and vehicles are clamoring for the gravy train to end?

    As long as the government is allowed to continue to grow unchecked, we’ll continue to see this issue (and others) continue to hurt the innocent.

  4. duke_of_hurl says:

    so whats your definition of a recreational pot smoker..? someone without a card..?just because you dont have a medical authorization doesnt mean that youre not using it for a medical purpose..what?,if i pay 100 bucks then its ok for me to medicate..thats b.s. ..marijuana helps with so many things that i think almost everyone in the world would benifit from MJ sometime in their life..ive been using pot as a natural remedy for many problems for almost 30 years..i dont drink,eat pills,or smoke cigs..another thing is also when work is slow and i have no medical insurance i cant afford to go to the doctors all the time and document all my problems..and also if people do use it to just get stoned,that doesnt mean that they dont have a medical problem that MJ would help..anyhow medical MJ authorizations are the best thing to happen in my lifetime..theres no going back now

  5. moms4marijuana says:

    I’m not convinced the author knows what the overwhelming view is or its cause. My take is that medical marijuana legalization, the will of the voters in Washington state, remains a low priority because of the pharmaceutical lobby.

  6. Chippert says:

    I lean more and more towards legalizing marijuana and treating it as an intoxicant (like beer or whiskey) but until that happens (and on a national level), the state should stop the half-baked measures and require all “medical” marijuana to be sold only through a registered pharmacy, dispensed by a certified and licensed pharmacist. Good article, Brian.

  7. BlaineCGarver says:

    Legalize it…But, not other drugs….

  8. moms4marijuana says:

    Why all the hate for the pot smokers? Is it because they are too relaxed and at peace with themselves to fight back?

    Do we draft legislation to outlaw prescription drugs because so many people abuse them and die from them?

    http://www.foxnews.com/health/2011/11/01/prescription-drug-deaths-skyrocket/

    Do we outlaw alcohol because there are so many alcohol related traffic deaths?

  9. amber424 says:

    Remember that “These folks – who are vocal, if nothing else – loudly denounce the criminalization of marijuana” are the reason you can get a prescription.

  10. moms4marijuana says:

    The problem is that legislators put the pharmaceutical lobby and their campaign changing donations ahead of the will of the people.

    The people have spoken regarding the medical marijuana in Washington state. That we have such poor leaders at both the State and Federal levels, leaders who can’t seem to figure out how to IMPLEMENT the will of the people, well, that’s just a symptom of the ineffective and bloated bureaucracy that government has become.

  11. Harry_Anslinger says:

    Brian- consider that cannabis prohibition was bullied into existence without allowing input from the AMA by one Harry Anslinger for reasons that had more to do with cronyism and racism than having any actual medical or societal validity. You openly admit that cannabis has medical value which makes the schedule I designation the glaring absurdity that it is.

    Anyone who is still looking at cannabis from the perspective that it would not be prohibited for almost 80 years and cost us trillions if it wasn’t bad is ignorant or disengenuous. Which one are you?

  12. Brian O'Neill says:

    As I’ve stated several times in this column, I really don’t care if pot is legalized for recreational use. Until that happens, all of the rhetoric is little more than an excuse to circumvent the law. Medical marijuana is in the same boat, so don’t sink it.

  13. notSpicoli says:

    “If you are a true proponent of medical marijuana – and after watching my mother-in-law suffer through chemo, I count myself one – then recognize that these recreational users are the real impediment to a safe, professional and wholly legal dispensary system.” Brian O’Neill

    Wow. A cop who who is superficially familiar with cannabis issues is going to tell us that what constitutes a “true proponent?” The biggest impediment to safe access for those who use cannabis medically is the “fear” stated by O’Neill: “the mad rush to obtain medical marijuana prescriptions by people whose chief objective is to get stoned.”

    Because of this attitude, as given expression by O’Neill, true access for those who use medical cannabis will only come with the end of marijuana prohibition.

    Here’s what another “proponent” says.

    “Rather than pour millions of dollars and human energy into creating a legally and politically contentious policy that allows some cannabis consumers who can obtain a physician’s recommendation to be immune from state (but not federal) prosecution during a time of general Cannabis Prohibition, all cannabis consumers, patients, cultivators and sellers and their families should focus their full attention and resources to once and for their full attention and resources to once and for all legalizing cannabis for all responsible adult consumers.” Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, October 8th, 2011

    We will be voting in November for legalization. For more information on I-502 and medical cannabis, see the factsheets at the New Approach Washington website.

  14. Brian O'Neill says:

    Webster defines proponent as “one who advocates.” I extended the definition to encompass actions, not just words. One of the main points of the column (in case you missed it) was to assert that legalization advocates are harming their cause by falsely obtaining medical marijuana permits. Voters are watching all of this and they are not impressed by all of the winks and nods.

    That will come back to haunt the “proponents” come November.

  15. notSpicoli says:

    Mr O’Neill, I did not miss your point. it is obvious and familiar.

    Did you get mine? Are you confusing the legalization of medical cannabis with the end of marijuana prohibition? You seem to be saying that medical shamming threatens medical cannabis legalization.

    I-502 legalizes regulated sales of cannabis to all adults. No physician’s recommendation required. People who use cannabis medicinally or want to use cannabis as a medicinal herb are free to use the privately owned, state licensed retail centers if they choose. There is no need for anyone to justify whether their use is medical or “recreational.” I-502 ends marijuana prohibition and legalizes marijuana. This is what we are voting on in November.

    Given the hassles and expense of getting a recommendation and renewing it, many will probably just use the I-502 proposed shops and forgo the medical cannabis process. This would obviously threaten the dispensary system. People who are “shamming” would no longer have reason to do so if, as some “fear,” they are doing so without medical need in order to use cannabis and avoid arrest and use the relatively safer “gray market” and dispensaries to obtain marijuana.

    The state medical cannabis law is not affected by I-502. They are separate entities. I-502 prohibits the growing of cannabis by individuals. Medical cannabis users with a health care professional’s recommendation would be permitted to grow marijuana, as they are allowed now.

    I, and many others, hold that when marijuana prohibition ends, there will be little focus or concern about prohibiting medical marijuana.

  16. moms4marijuana says:

    Again I have to ask how the blog author knows what the voters are thinking. How does he know the voters are watching and not impressed? Has he taken a poll? Has the Tribune? Is he a sociologist? A political scientist?

    What difference does it make what the voters do in November?

    It didn’t make any difference when they voted to legalize medical marijuana, as evidenced by the decade long talking in circles that’s been going on since the law was passed, the continued crafting of legislation, and the illegal raids on dispensaries by local and federal law enforcement.

    Do law enforcement and the US Justice Department only enforce laws they agree with?

  17. Brian O'Neill says:

    Are your questions meant to be rhetorical? The voters are the middle of the road people who, for the most part, really don’t care whether pot is legalized or not. What they do care about -and I say this as a member of society, not as a police officer- is that cheating should not be rewarded. Medical marijuana laws were passed for sick people, and when regular people (voters) see so-called medical professionals and dealers collaborate to sell to people who do not need marijuana as medication the public is far less likely to agree to true legalization.

    You need a poll to see how the average voter feels about cheaters?

    Speaking as a police officer, the laws are enforced as necessary. The “dispensaries” as you call the are selling unlawfully, and are further proof that cheaters continue ruin the medical marijuana program. Also, the Department of Justice (by which I assume you mean the DEA) enforces federal laws. Federal law still recognizes marijuana as illegal in any form.

  18. moms4marijuana says:

    Brian, I do appreciate you calling them recreational users rather than stoners. It’s a show of professionalism that the Editor of this newspaper doesn’t even adhere to. Also, I seldom see professional print journalists call alcohol users or abusers drunks or drug addicts tweakers or meth-heads, so thanks for keeping the conversation free from name-calling.

  19. Brian O'Neill says:

    That’s a fair comment, moms4, so I will continue that practice.

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