Position on Banking Access for Marijuana Businesses Revealed
Staffers for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign extensively briefed the candidate to prepare for likely debate questions about marijuana policy, a newly leaked document shows.
“While YOU should avoid saying marijuana accounts for a signification portion of the U.S. correctional population, or a significant portion of those behind bars for drug offenses,” the 154-page briefing book advises, “it IS correct that there are hundreds of thousands of arrests for marijuana crimes, and that there are thousands of people serving (some) time for marijuana crimes – many of whom would likely be better off in their communities.”
The document, attached to an email from the hacked account of John Podesta, the campaign’s chairman, also details how Clinton should respond to questions about whether marijuana businesses should be able to use banks:
If pressed: what about marijuana banking restrictions – should we let marijuana businesses access banking services?
• I do think these businesses – if they are operating in according with state law, and with federal guidelines – should be able to access banking services. I know that the Obama Administration has taken steps in this direction, and I think those steps are smart.
• Not having access to banking services can force legal and licensed businesses to deal in cash, making their stores a target for theft. Cash-only operations also are more difficult to audit. I will continue to evaluate the steps the Administration had taken, to determine if we should go further.
Because of continuing federal prohibition, many financial services providers have been reluctant to work with state-legal marijuana businesses. In 2014, the Obama administration released guidance intended to make it easier for banks to do business with cannabis sellers, but many financial industry leaders remain wary. They say that until federal law actually changes — as opposed to relying on nonbinding memos that could be changed by future administrations — they’re going to stay away.
That Clinton’s campaign team included marijuana as one of 58 topics about which to brief their candidate shows how federal prohibition is increasingly viewed as an important political issue that the next president will have to address seriously.
But the two-page section on marijuana reveals that the person who prepared it wasn’t especially well versed on the issue. “Activists in nearly every state are attempting to put marijuana on the ballot in 2016,” one bullet point says. “Experts predict that ballot measures will take place in Nevada (confirmed), as well as California, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, and New York.”
The memo author not only neglects to note the ultimately successful effort to place a marijuana legalization measure on Arizona’s ballot, but seems ignorant of the fact that Hawaii and New York don’t even allow voter initiatives.
The document was emailed to Podesta and other top Clinton aides on February 3, just one day ahead of a Democratic primary debate in New Hampshire. It references the marijuana law reform positions of rivals U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who had dropped out of the race days earlier following a disappointing showing in the Iowa caucuses.
The email, posted online by WikiLeaks on Thursday, is one of a handful of messages from the hack that contain nuggets of interest for marijuana policy watchers.
Earlier this week, Marijuana.com was first to report on a message showing that the former secretary of state spoke out against legalizing marijuana behind closed doors in a paid speech at Xerox.
Another message showed that staffers suggested attacking O’Malley for evolving too slowly on supporting marijuana decriminalization, even though Clinton herself hasn’t yet endorsed removing cannabis’s criminal penalties.
The campaign’s traveling press secretary, Nick Merrill, appeared in another message to admit to formerly using illegal drugs, and made a perhaps joking insinuation that senior campaign strategist Joel Benenson would also have failed if subjected to drug tests:
I’m piling on at this point, but without knowing the background or the particulars, the mandatory testing piece is troubling to me. Not to mention I probably wouldn’t have passed at times in my younger years…I bet I’m not the only one.*
In that message, staffers were discussing and revising an op-ed piece detailing Clinton’s substance abuse policies. Merrill, Benenson and some of the other aides on the thread seemed to confuse a proposed annual “screening” of young people for substance misuse issues with random drug testing.
In the end, the campaign decided to drop the idea…at least for now.
“I am hearing separately that even with this change that the screenings could be misconstrued and likely more trouble than they are worth,” wrote Ann O’Leary, the campaign’s senior policy advisor. “Let’s kill it and I’ll revisit it as a good policy idea on the other side of this election but not one for campaign fodder.”
WikiLeaks has been posting batches of Podesta’s hacked emails on a daily basis, and hasn’t given any indication of how many more messages it still has to publish.
To see what else Hillary Clinton has said about cannabis law reform, check out Marijuana.com’s comprehensive guide to the candidates.
Photo Courtesy of Allie Beckett.