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If you want to break federal law, it’s better to be a banker than a medical marijuana provider
According to Matt Taibbi, in his latest Rolling Stone exposé on the banking and financial industry “Too Big to Jail,” HSBC “helped to wash hundreds of millions of dollars for drug mobs, including Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel,” and also “moved money for organizations linked to Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, and for Russian gangsters; helped countries like Iran, the Sudan and North Korea evade sanctions.”
Yet, as outrageous as these transgressions are, the Justice Department refuses to criminally prosecute the bankers committing federal crimes right under the nose of the U.S. government.
At a press conference where the Justice Department announced a settlement between the government and HSBC, in which the bank was forced to pay $1.9 billion, but without any individual being fined or prosecuted, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer had this to say:
Had the U.S. authorities decided to press criminal charges, HSBC would almost certainly have lost its banking license in the U.S., the future of the institution would have been under threat and the entire banking system would have been destabilized.
So, the lesson we’re supposed to take from that is this:
if you’re a banker you can commit federal felonies and all you have to endure is a slap on the wrist. However, if you’re in any other line of business and you commit federal felonies, all bets are off.
If you’re a medical marijuana provider, for example, the Justice Department will not just look the other way as it did for years with HSBC. Instead, you can expect the government to come after you with the full force of the law.
Over the past four years, the Obama Administration has spent millions of taxpayer dollars criminally prosecuting scores of people, arguably in compliance with their state’s medical marijuana laws. Montana medical marijuana cultivator Chris Williams was most recently sentenced to 5 years in federal prison. California-based dispensary operator Aaron Sandusky was sentenced a few weeks earlier to 10 years. Michigan cultivators and medical marijuana patients Jeremy and Jerry Duval were sentenced late last year to 5 and 10 years in prison, respectively. All four of these defendants were convicted at trial after being denied a medical marijuana defense.
In medical marijuana-related cases, the government goes out of its way to stack the legal deck against defendants. It’s bad enough that the Justice Department expends significant resources to prosecute those trying to comply with state law, but to also deny them a defense is shameful.
Two bills currently in Congress would attempt to change that dynamic. HR689, the “States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act” would reclassify the drug for more widespread use and research, while HR710, the “Truth in Trials Act” would grant an affirmative defense in federal court cases. Passage of these bills would go a long way in bringing fairness to our country’s public health policy.
However, much more needs to be done before our skewed approach to medical marijuana is corrected. For example, some of the same banks that were at least partly responsible for our recent economic crash -- like Wells Fargo and Bank of America -- are in collusion with the federal government to deny financial services to legally compliant medical marijuana businesses.
Just in case you missed it: the Justice Department looks the other way when large banks launder foreign drug cartel money in our own country, but works with large banks to deny services to legally compliant medical marijuana businesses. And that’s if they’re lucky. If the Justice Department decides to target such businesses, as it has with hundreds of them, the owners could spend years in prison.
Justice in America has often been selective, though rarely has it been starker than this.
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