That's why some dispensaries use armored car companies to get their money to and from their favorite bank (or elsewhere). But the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says no more. The federal authority has told armored car companies they can no longer work with some, perhaps all, cannabis retailers in California and Colorado.
The pro-pot forces were up in arms today:
The group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition called it "an unbelievably ill-advised move" after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced new sentencing guidelines for low-level offenders such as pot users.
Holder is the DEA's boss: Is the Obama administration for or against medical marijuana?
Retired LAPD deputy chief Stephen Downing of LEAP says in a statement:
Combined with federal restrictions and threats made to banks about doing business with marijuana providers, this ensures that businesses known to carry large amounts of cash will be transporting that cash without professional protection. You couldn't create a situation more ripe for criminal intervention if you tried. It's like the directive was written by petty thugs rather than by one of the most powerful agencies of the US government.In Los Angeles dispensaries have been victimized by violent, sometimes deadly robberies. That doesn't mean that armored cars are the solution, but some believe having armed guards pick up and deliver cash can be a deterrent.
Medical marijuana dispensaries don't cause crime, studies have shown. In fact, they may prevent it. So why is the federal Justice Department doing everything it can to make pot clubs ideal robbery targets?
Last year, the feds told credit card companies to stop doing business with California's legal medical cannabis dispensaries. This was after they'd given the same directive to banks. And now that medical marijuana retailers are cash-only -- and need a means to deliver large amounts of cash to entities like the state Board of Equalization -- the feds have made them unsafe.
The DEA has informed security and armored car companies -- a necessity in a cash-only business -- to stop working with cannabis dispensaries or face penalties of money laundering and other charges, cannabis industry representatives announced yesterday.
The move is the latest clamp-down in President Barack Obama's cold war against California's taxpaying dispensaries.
The move to halt security companies from guarding and armored car companies, including Dunbar, from visiting places like Harborside Health Center -- which deals in upwards of $25 million in sales a year, all cash -- was first announced by Harborside CEO Steve DeAngelo.
In an interview with MMJ Business Daily -- the first outlet to break news of the feds' move to make medical marijuana businesses less safe -- DeAngelo said that the local Dunbar affiliate had been informed by corporate headquarters of the DEA pressure, and that federal agents went as far as to "interview" armored car drivers to ensure their clients weren't pot clubs.
"The federal government appears willing to do anything that will turn this inherently safe plant into something dangerous, no matter the impact on public health or safety," DeAngelo told the marijuana business Web site, adding that he's now trying to find an alternative solution to the twice-daily cash deliveries.
Harborside pays over $1 million a year to the City of Oakland alone, and owes the state of California 8 percent in sales taxes.
Other dispensaries in Colorado and California have also lost their links with security and armored car companies, but many others are not talking about it publicly out of safety concerns, according to Gaynell Rogers, a Harborside spokeswoman.
DEA Special Agent Karl Nichols, a San Francisco-based spokesman, told SF Weekly on Thursday that he had "no knowledge" of any such action.
However, he did note that anyone doing business with someone "engaging in illegal activity" did run the risk of violating "money laundering" and other statutes. In other words, Dunbar and others do risk federal prosecution solely for doing business with a state-legal enterprise.
While we were waiting for Nichols to hear back from his bosses in DC, the Huffington Post reported that the DEA had confirmed the move, but did not cite a source.
The move may befuddle, as Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have said repeatedly that the federal government will respect operations in compliance with state law. However, their actions have continuously contradicted that -- and in an insidious way, it's becoming downright evil.
"The true nature of the Obama Administration's approach to voter-approved medical marijuana is now clear," Aaron Smith of the National Cannabis Industry Association said in a press release. "They want more cash underground. They want our streets to be more dangerous. They want the lives of state-licensed providers endangered."
Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, said the move will continue to push the medical cannabis drug trade underground instead of out in the open where, he argues, it would be safer:
The true nature of the Obama administration's approach to voter-approved medical marijuana is now clear. They want more cash underground. They want our streets to be more dangerous.