By Dalton Rosario

On February 13th the first congressional cannabis hearing will be held before the House Financial Services subcommittee and the Consumer Protection subcommittee to address the problems and solutions related to statewide cannabis businesses working with federal banking services. This is a contentious topic due to cannabis’ current status of federal prohibition even though states across the nation are moving forward with cannabis legalization. The clear problem is that despite legislation outlining policies for banks to follow when dealing with strictly cash-based cannabis proceeds, many banks opt out of the risk associated with handling accounts for cannabis businesses due to the complicated restrictions and gray-area legalities it falls within; and the corresponding penalties if there is a breach of policy that could close the down the bank entirely. 

As it stands for most banks the risk is not worth the reward. But can it be? That is what the 116th Congress seeks to prove next week. It is clear that criminalizing cannabis has failed the people as a federal policy. Reformations and restitutions are at the top of legislators’ list of amendments to pass into law by the end of 2019. These policy shifts require an infrastructure in place that provides transparency between banking institutions and home-grown businesses that benefit public safety by nullifying illicit drug markets. The most immediate method for doing so is by granting depository regulations for cash circulating large-scale cannabis operations, which will only intensify as more states open avenues for cannabis markets to lawfully partake in their state economy as a legitimate industry with all of the necessary licensing, taxation and regulations set in place. Even though the only permanent method is to address cannabis legalization on a national scale, ending federal prohibition and its residual counter-effects once and for all.        

By Dalton Rosario

Starting this week in Baltimore all cannabis offenses short of federal possession with intent to distribute will be charged as a misdemeanor. And as restitutions are concerned, arrest rates as far back as 2011 will be given expungement, and all current cases will be dropped and dismissed into diversion programs. Top prosecutor Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore State’s Attorney said recently, “No one who is serious about public safety can honestly say that spending our resources to jail people for marijuana is a smart way to use our limited time and money.”

The motivation behind this response is recurrent from the war on drugs’ explicit history of ethnic and racial segregation and how this has affected countless communities disproportionally for decades. In Baltimore, an analysis of police data released by the Baltimore Fishbowl claims that out of the 1,514 documented cannabis-related possession cases between 2015 and 2017, 96% of these charges involved African Americans.  

Statistics like this project the harsh, simple truth fueling the war on drugs for the past decade; and more purposefully, it provides a substantial framework for arranging cannabis reformation in immediate fashion. If these wrongs can be corrected in Maryland, then we can all model Baltimore's legislation as a prototype for lawmakers nationwide. Maryland homes half the population of nearby states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, yet ranks seventh highest in the country for statewide possession-related cannabis arrests. A grotesque 90% of cannabis arrests are possession based, accounting for half of all drug arrests within the state. But not anymore in the city of Baltimore, where 30% of the population was targeted for 90% of cannabis crimes.

By Dalton Rosario

As it stands, our continued partial government shutdown is contingent upon a national security threat necessitating a wall spanning our souther border to keep illegal drugs from being smuggled into our country. The problem with this narrative lies in the fact that roughly 90% of all illicit drugs enter our country through legal ports. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in 2017 almost 1.6 million pounds of cannabis was seized from our souther border. This sounds like a large amount without proper context; however, licensed cultivators within the state of Oregon alone grew 2.6 million pounds of cannabis that same year. Certainly this does not negate the fact that at least 10% of illegal drugs entering our country comes from our southern border. But the 1.6 million pounds of cannabis confiscated by the DHS in 2017 - although a sizable amount - totals half of illegally imported drugs seized four years prior in 2013.

This denotes progress due to state legislation supporting the cannabis industry and its commercial viability to generate income and tax revenues from medical programs and recreational use. Not from buffing up Border Patrol with an already finite amount of resources at the federal government’s disposal. According to a marijuana supply chain analysis at the Cato Institute, an American Libertarian Think Tank, boarder patrol seizures dropped 78% over a span of five years due to a clear correlation that cannabis was the predominant drug being smuggled into our borders. As Cato analyst David Bier wrote, “State marijuana legalization starting in 2014 did more to reduce marijuana smuggling than the doubling of Border Patrol agents or the construction of hundreds of miles of border fencing did from 2003 to 2009.” 

For years now advocates have been calling on state lawmakers to introduce quality control measures into legislation for cannabis to be treated as any other consumer good that is regulated for consistency, potency and purity of product. With this now-pending “state of emergency” comes a sense of urgency to act. Including this excuse for a wall to strengthen our border security - countering illicit drugs smuggled into our country - and the inevitable catalyst of backlash from those who harbor reason within our Congress; leading to the continued stalemate of this governmental shutdown.