Sunday, August 27, 2017

U.S. Patriot Act FUBARs Uruguay's Marijuana Legalization Effort



NYTimes |  Fighting drug trafficking was one of the main reasons the Uruguayan government gave for legalizing recreational marijuana. Officials spent years developing a complex regulatory framework that permits people to grow a limited supply of cannabis themselves or buy it at pharmacies for less than the black market rate. Lawmakers hoped that legal structure would undercut illicit marijuana cultivation and sales.

“There probably isn’t a trade in Uruguay today that is more controlled than cannabis sale,” Mr. Durán said.

As a candidate, President Trump said that American states should be free to chart their own courses on marijuana, and he promised to pare back regulation in the financial sector. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, however, has been a sharp critic of legalization and has compared marijuana to heroin.
Now, some members of the cannabis industry wonder whether the United States government will resolve the conflict between its banking laws and the expanding patchwork of measures to legalize recreational and medical marijuana use around the world. The guidance from the Obama administration, issued by the Justice and Treasury Departments in a pair of memos in 2014, addressed the matter domestically but not for international banking.

“Uruguay may be the tip of the iceberg,” said Mr. Robison, the Colorado lawyer who specializes in marijuana regulation.

Pharmacists in Uruguay were incredulous to learn that their bank accounts could be shut down, considering the years of study and planning that preceded the start of retail marijuana sales last month. The country’s marijuana law was passed in 2013.

“We can’t understand how the government didn’t have the foresight to anticipate this,” said Gabriel Bachini, a pharmacy owner in the coastal city of Colonia.

Since sales began, the number of registered buyers in Uruguay has more than doubled. As of Aug. 15, more than 12,500 people had enrolled in a system that verifies customers’ identities with fingerprint scanners and allows them to buy up to 40 grams per month (at a price of about $13 for 10 grams, enough for about 15 joints, advocates say). Under the law, only Uruguayan citizens and legal permanent residents are allowed to buy or grow marijuana.

“Demand has been very strong,” Mr. Bachini said. “People are thrilled that they no longer have to go to private homes or venture out into neighborhoods” to get marijuana.
In emailed statements, the Treasury and Justice Departments said that their earlier guidance was still being applied. But banking and legal experts say the Trump administration has yet to lay down clear markers on this area of policy.

Officials in Uruguay are hopeful that American lawmakers will pass legislation allowing banks to do business with marijuana sellers in states and countries where it is regulated. Representative Ed Perlmutter, Democrat of Colorado, introduced a bill in April that would do that, but marijuana advocates say they do not expect a prompt legislative change.