Cannabis Co-operative Credit Unions

State Nullification: Inhale Deeply

When we asked a couple of months ago whether the Cannabis Co-operative Credit Unions that have been authorized by Colorado law were “dead on arrival,” we thought that the answer was “yes.” Yet, there appears to be a beating heart and hopeful heart in this body, inasmuch as the State of Colorado recently granted the first such charter.

There  are a couple of catches, however. First, the NCUA still has to grant deposit insurance, which may be a couple of years away (although Colorado law allows the co-op to open its doors as long as it has “applied” for NCUA insurance). The second is that state law requires that the credit union have access to the Federal Reserve system via a master account. One of the attorneys for the credit union asserts that the credit union has a “right” to a master account. I’m not so sure, but I guess we’ll see, won’t we?

This development comes on top of anecdotal evidence that a few banks are providing financial services for marijuana-related businesses and that the federal banking regulators know about it and are “tacitly” approving the same (in other words, not writing up the bank in an examination for engaging in this activity, as long as they have the right “risk-management policy” in place). If those instances denote a trend, then apparently “prosecutorial discretion” is waxing in areas other than illegal immigration. Apparently, you have to be involved in a much more heinous business like legal payday lending, check-cashing, legal gun-selling, deposit advance lending, overdraft protection, and legal online match-making before you offend the ethical sensibilities of the US Justice Department and the federal banking regulators. Engaging in organized drug financing in violation of federal criminal statutes is not worth the while of the current occupants of the executive branch of the federal government.

On the issue of whether or not recreational marijuana use ought to be decriminalized at the federal level, I’m an evangelical agnostic. I believe deeply, based solely on divine revelation and natural law informed by reason, that there are valid arguments on both sides of the issue, and I’m willing to listen to rational argument both for and against the proposition. However, the fact remains that what Fourth Corner Credit Union and those who assist it in servicing marijuana-related businesses is illegal under federal criminal laws. They are violating federal drug laws, and, arguably, engaged in a conspiracy to do so. There are a number of convicted felons whiling away their days in federal penitentiaries for having engaged in organized activity to promote the cultivation, harvesting, processing, distribution, and sale of marijuana, and the “processing” of funds derived from such activities.

This nation once almost went to war with certain states (South Carolina being the most prominent) over the theory of “nullification,” whose advocates asserted that states could “nullify” within their borders the application of federal laws with which the state disagreed. President Jackson was prepared to use federal troops to invade any state that tried to put that theory into practice. Although the specific issue at that time involved tariffs, and today it involves the use of drugs, one hundred and eighty years later we seem to be on the verge of the same war, in which certain states think that they can, by changing their state laws on drugs, somehow nullify the effect of federal drug laws within their borders. A critical difference today is that the federal authorities are not only not prepared to combat the nullification effort, they appear to be accommodating it.

With several states, and the District of Columbia, enacting recreational marijuana use legislation earlier this month, and with more states expected to consider similar legislation in 2016, the issue is not going away and it’s not just a problem for Colorado and Washington state. Personally, I think it would be better for the respect for the rule of law to have a debate in Congress over the merits of changing federal drug laws, or, at the very least, to have the Justice Department go through the process of considering the removal of marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. Moreover, for those financial institutions and those that aid and abet them in financing marijuana-related businesses, January 2017 could bring the second coming of a John Ashcroft wanna-be as Attorney General, and the worm could turn. If that happens, the discretion of prosecutors may be to nail your hide to the side of a barn. After all, I remember when “open bank assistance” and “forbearance” were not dirty words for bank regulators. Times change. Stuff happens.

Actually, I don’t expect such cautionary advice to concern those most at risk. They’re too busy inhaling and munching.

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