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December 13, 2012 at 6:00 AM

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Bank regulators raise risks at marijuana dispensaries

In the world of marijuana, the conflict between liberal state law and prohibitory federal law is leading to an urgent problem of personal safety.

A week ago, on Dec. 6, there was a home invasion and robbery in Bothell. The victims were not identified in the police statement, and I have not talked to them. Sources in the medical marijuana field say the victims are involved in a dispensary that has been conducting its business in cash, and that the perpetrators knew this and followed them home to rob them.

This appears to be a problem largely created by the conflict between federal and state law. Under state law, medical dispensaries are allowed; under federal law they are banned. The dispensaries are here. And around here, federal authorities have mostly not tried to shut them down, at least not directly; but they have passed the word to banks that having checking accounts for marijuana shops is the same as laundering drug money.

Among banks, “everybody that was trying to work with medical marijuana has stopped,” said Seattle attorney Douglas Hiatt. He said some dispensaries are using personal bank accounts, with possible adverse tax consequences for the persons holding those accounts. A lucky few have checking accounts under business names that provide them cover. The rest are using cash.

A final wrinkle is that people in medical marijuana have been advised not to have guns, because if they are arrested (for having too many plants, or selling to someone not authorized to buy, etc.) the gun raises the risk of imprisonment. Under state law, someone charged with illegal manufacture faces a sentence of zero to 12 months; with a gun handy, the minimum sentence is 18 months. Even if the case was negotiated, the gun “is certainly going to impact the negotiations,” said Seattle attorney Aaron Pelley.

More than that: having a gun makes it more likely a dispensary owner will be arrested. “The way law enforcement looks at this, it’s much more serious when there’s guns,” Pelley said.

To sum up: because of the federal bank regulators, the dispensaries deal in cash, and because of state and federal sentencing rules, they don’t use guns, and therefore are vulnerable to robbers.

And all this is happening in the world of medical marijuana, which was supposedly legalized 14 years ago. There aren’t any stores selling marijuana under Initiative 502—not yet.

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Discrimination plain and simple. You don't hear whether guns were involved in crimes... MORE
I work with MMJ companies around the US. Lack of access to banking services is at the... MORE
Funny in Texas you can rest assured a gun is in reach of every bar owner when large... MORE

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