justice department

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California: VICTORY! Feds Drop North Bay Marijuana Dispensary Case

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

After a grueling 18-year court battle, federal authorities on Tuesday finally dropped their appeal of the Shaw Decision, clearing the way for the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, led by Lynnette Shaw, along with other dispensaries in the North Coast region, to sell medicinal cannabis.

"I WIN and WE ALL WIN," Shaw posted on Facebook Tuesday. "I am Fed Proof - wow - after 18 years of litigation. And I have the first-ever Federal orders that okay my selling medical pot!!"

Santa Rosa lawyer Greg Anton represented Fairfax-based MAMA, the state's first licensed dispensary after it was forced to close in 2011, reports Paul Payne at the The Press Democrat.

The spunky Shaw had sued in federal court, citing a new law authored by a Southern California Congressman which prohibits the feds from spending money to prosecute dispensaries which are operating in compliance with state law.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer last October sided with Shaw, issuing a scathing critique of the Department of Justice position, which he said "tortures the language of the law." Federal prosecutors appealed in December, to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

U.S.: Former Attorney General Eric Holder Says Reschedule Marijuana

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Former Attorney General Eric Holder -- who once had the power to unilaterally begin the process of rescheduling marijuana, but didn't use it -- now says he agrees that cannabis should be reclassified under federal law.

"I certainly think it ought to be rescheduled," Holder said in a newly published interview with PBS. "You know, we treat marijuana in the same way that we treat heroin now, and that clearly is not appropriate."

“It’s nice to have Holder’s support for this sensible policy change, but it would have been a lot better if he’d exercised the power to get marijuana rescheduling done while he was still in office," Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, told Hemp News on Wednesday morning. "We know that Holder and President Obama are good friends, so I hope the former attorney general encourages his former boss and his successor Loretta Lynch to follow through during these final months of the administration and get the job done.

"There’s absolutely no reason marijuana should be in Schedule I, and it would be absurd to keep passing the buck to Congress when federal law clearly gives the administration the power to act," Holder said.

Mexico: Marijuana Farmers See Profits Tumble As U.S. Legalizes

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The loosening of marijuana laws in the United States has increased competition from American growers, apparently enough to drive down prices paid to Mexican black-market cannabis farmers.

Small-scale growers in the state of Sinaloa, one of Mexico's biggest marijuana production areas, said that over the past four years the per-kilogram price has fallen from $100 to $30, reports Deborah Bonello at the Los Angeles Times.

The price drops appear to have led to reduced marijuana production in Mexico and a drop in trafficking to the U.S., according to officials on both sides of the border.

"People don't want to abandon their illicit crops, but more and more they are realizing that it is no longer good business," said Juan Gerra, Sinaloa's secretary of agriculture.

For decades, in an impotent and ill-fated attempt to stop marijuana cultivation in Mexico, both the American and Mexican governments have paid farmers to grow legal crops, and have periodically sent in Mexican soldiers to supposedly "seek out and eradicate" cannabis fields. Just as often, the troops merely demanded a piece of the action.

Those efforts, of course, failed miserably to stop production, because marijuana was still more profitable than the alternatives. It took legalization in several states in the U.S. to actually make a negative impact on Mexican cannabis production; it's not rocket science and doesn't require a genius level IQ to comprehend.

Hawaii: Medical Marijuana Dispensary Rules Won't Be Unveiled Until January

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The Hawaii Department of Health doesn't plan any public hearings for comments on rules governing the state's new medical marijuana dispensary system before releasing draft rules on January 4, 2016.

Entrepreneurs will have only a few days to review the rules before applying, between January 11 and January 29, for eight highly sought licenses to grow and sell medicinal cannabis, reports Anita Hofschvneider at Honolulu Civil Beat.

Hawaii's recently enacted state law establishing the dispensary system exempts the health department from seeking public input, because legislators in July decided they want to establish a medical marijuana system by July 16, 2016, public commend be damned.

“We’re taking full advantage of that exemption so that we can spend the time to get the necessary rules done,” Health Department official Keith Ridley told legislators during a briefing Thursday at the Hawaii State Capitol.

The Department of Health is struggling with a backlog of 1,000 applications for the medical marijuana authorizations. It is still hiring to run the dispensary program, and still hasn't decided how much information about the applications it will make available to the public.

Ridley said the health department doesn't plan to release the names of any applicants for licenses until it selects the licensees on April 15, 2016, "because it may frustrate the state's process of determining the licensees."

South Dakota: Tribe To Open Nation's First Marijuana Resort

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The Santee Sioux tribe in Flandreau, South Dakota, has announced it plans to open the nation's first marijuana resort and "adult playground" on its reservation.

The small tribe of 400 is undertaking the venture after already having proven their business acumen running a successful casino, a 120-room hotel and a 240-head buffalo ranch, reports Regina Garcia Cano at The Associated Press. The experiment could mean a new money-making model for Native American tribes nationwide looking for economic opportunities beyond casinos.

Tribal leaders plan to grow their own cannabis and sell it in a smoking lounge that includes a nightclub, arcade games, bar and food service, slot machines, and an outdoor music venue.

"We want it to be an adult playground," said tribal President Anthony Reider. "There's nowhere else in America that has something like this."

The "playground" could mean up to $2 million a month in profit, and work has already begun on the growing operation, according to the tribe. The first weed is expected to go on sale on December 31 at a New Year's Eve party.

The Santee Sioux decided to legalize marijuana in June, a few months after the U.S. Department of Justice announced a new policy that allows Native American tribes to grow and sell cannabis under the same conditions as states where it is legal.

U.S.: Department of Justice Admits Lying To Congress About Medical Marijuana

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The U.S. Justice Department warned Congress last year that a medical marijuana provision included in an appropriations bill could "limit or possibly eliminate the Department's ability to enforce federal law in recreational marijuana cases as well." But it turns out that was wrong, according to a just-revealed DOJ memo.

The "informal talking points" obtained by Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell were "intended to discourage passage" of the provision, which passed and was signed into law, reports Christopher Ingraham at The Washington Post.

The memo was written by the chief of the Justice Department's appellate section and dated February 27, 2015. In it, the DOJ says the provision does not place "any limitations on our ability to investigate and prosecute crimes involving recreational marijuana."

The memo's talking points were repeated by a number of House members who opposed the medical marijuana provision.

Andy Harris (R-Maryland), one of the worst enemies of medicinal cannabis in the entire House, claimed "the amendment as written would tie the DEA's hands beyond medical marijuana." Rep. John Fleming (R-Louisiana) claimed that the provision would "take away the ability of the Department of Justice to protect our young people ... it would just make it difficult, if not impossible, for the DEA and the Department of Justice to enforce the law."

U.S.: House Votes To Protect State Medical Marijuana Laws From Federal Interference

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The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a measure 242-186 that is intended to prevent the federal government from interfering in state medical marijuana laws.

The amendment, offered by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA) to the House version of the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, prohibits the Justice Department, including the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), from using funds to interfere in the implementation of laws that allow the cultivation, distribution, and use of marijuana for medical purposes.

The amendment has been offered in the House eight times since 2003, and it passed for the first time last year by a vote of 219-189. It was codified in the so-called “CRomnibus” funding bill in December, and it is expected to be included in the final spending law again this year.

The House is now expected to consider a broader measure that would not be limited to medical marijuana. The amendment, offered by Reps. Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Jared Polis (D-CO), would prohibit the Justice Department from using funds to interfere in the implementation of state laws regulating marijuana for adult use, in addition to medical purposes.

U.S.: Congress Votes To End DEA's Bulk Data Collection Program, Reduce Budget, Shift Funding

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Votes Come in Wake of Recent Forced Resignation of DEA Head and Growing Public Pressure to End Drug War and Mass Incarceration

Legislators Tuesday night voted by a simple voice vote to end the DEA’s controversial bulk data collection programs, as part of the U.S. House of Representatives' consideration of the Fiscal Year 2016 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill. The House also passed three amendments that cut $23 million from the DEA’s budget, and shifted it to fighting child abuse, processing rape test kits, reducing the deficit, and paying for body cameras on police officers to reduce law enforcement abuses.

Representatives debated four amendments to prohibit the DEA and Justice Department from undermining state marijuana laws -- and those votes will happen on Wednesday.

“Congress dealt a major blow to the DEA by ending their invasive and offensive bulk data collection programs and by cutting their budget," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “The more the DEA ignores commonsense drug policy, the more they will see their agency’s power and budget come under deeper scrutiny.”

Three amendments cutting the DEA’s budget passed by voice vote:

• Rep. Ted Liew's (D-CA) amendment shifted $9 million from the DEA’s failed Cannabis Reduction and Eradication program to the VAWA Consolidated Youth Oriented Program ($4 million), Victims of Child Abuse Act ($3 million), and deficit reduction ($2 million).

California: Convicted Medical Marijuana Seller Gets Congressional Allies In Legal Appeal

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Former medical marijuana dispensary owner Charles Lynch has for years waged a legal battle against federal prosecutors who want to send him to prison. Last week, he finally got help from some unexpected and influential allies: U.S. Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) and Sam Farr (D-Carmel).

Reps. Rohrabacher and Farr filed a strongly worded brief with the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals accusing prosecutors of flouting federal law as they go after Lynch, reports Joel Rubin at The Los Angeles Times. The Congressmen called on the court to end the case against Lynch.

Rohrabacher and Farr were late last year the authors of an amendment to federal law meant to prevent the Justice Department from interfering in states where medical marijuana is legal. The amendment, receiving unusually broad bipartisan support in December, was written into a government spending bill.

The amendment prevents the Justice Department from using federal funds in a way that hinders states "from implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana."

It was assumed federal prosecutors would have no choice but to abandon cases such as the one against Lynch. But Justice Department officials have persisted in their war on marijuana. In general, they've argued the spending ban forbids them from interfering with officials carrying out state law, but doesn't stop them from going after sellers.

U.S.: Presidential Candidate Rubio Wants To Enforce Federal Law In Marijuana States

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Prospective candidates for the Republican Presidential nomination continued their baffling verbal assault on cannabis this week, as Florida Senator Marco Rubio joined Chris Christie in pledging a federal crackdown on states that have legalized marijuana.

Asked by radio host Hugh Hewitt if he would "enforce the federal drug laws and shut down the marijuana trade," Rubio answered: "I think, well, I think we need to enforce our federal laws. Now do states have a right to do what they want? They don’t agree with it, but they have their rights. But they don’t have a right to write federal policy as well…

"I don’t believe we should be in the business of legalizing additional intoxicants in this country for the primary reason that when you legalize something, what you’re sending a message to young people is it can’t be that bad, because if it was that bad, it wouldn’t be legal," said Rubio, revealing his distressingly murky thought process around the subject.

"In addition to enforcing the rest of the Controlled Substances Act, U.S. Attorneys are still pursuing marijuana cases in Colorado and Washington, just not in a way that shuts down the state-legal industry," said Jacob Sullum at Reason. "Rubio apparently opposes that policy of prosecutorial forbearance."

U.S.: DEA Administrator Chief Michele Leonhart Expected To Resign

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Resignation Comes as DEA at Center of Series of Scandals in its Effort to Continue Failed War on Drugs

After Decades of Mass Incarceration, Racial Disparities, and Failed Drug Policies, DEA Finally Facing Scrutiny

By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

A senior White House official has said that the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Michele Leonhart, is expected to soon resign. The news comes as no surprise to drug policy reformers who say her opposition to reform made her out of step with the Obama Administration.

“Following the official resignation of Ms. Leonhart as head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, I encourage the President to use this as an opportunity to fill this important role with someone who understands the outdated federal approach to marijuana isn’t working," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon. "The American public has moved on. Most now feel marijuana should be legalized.

"Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized the adult use of marijuana, and more than two-thirds of Americans live in a state that has legalized some form of medical marijuana," Congressman Blumenauer said. "The President himself has said we have bigger fish to fry than going after state-legal marijuana users. I would urge him to put in place a DEA Administrator who will reflect his Administration’s position and can be a partner in creating a more workable system of marijuana laws.”

U.S.: New Report Finds Extensive Forfeiture Abuses By California Law Enforcement

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With Bipartisan Support in U.S. Congress and Buoyed By New Mexico’s First-of-Its-Kind Law That Ends Civil Forfeiture, Momentum Accelerates for Reform

The Drug Policy Alliance on Tuesday launched Above the Law: An Investigation of Civil Asset Forfeiture Abuses in California, a multi-year, comprehensive look at asset forfeiture abuses in California that reveals the troubling extent to which law enforcement agencies have violated state and federal law.

Civil asset forfeiture law allows the government to seize and keep cash, cars, real estate, and any other property – even from citizens never charged with or convicted of a crime. Because these assets often go straight into the coffers of the enforcement agency, these laws have led to a perversion of police priorities, such as increasing personnel on the forfeiture unit while reducing the number of officers on patrol and in investigation units.

While civil asset forfeiture was originally conceived as an effective way to target and drain resources away from powerful criminal organizations, Above the Law discloses how these strategies and programs have now become a relied-upon source of funding for law enforcement agencies all across the state.

Georgia: Governor Signs Low-THC Medical Marijuana Oil Bill Into Law

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal on Thursday signed legislation immediately legalizing the use of low-THC medical marijuana oil to treat eight serious medical conditions.

The new law, sponsored in the Georgia House by state Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon), makes it legal to possess up to 20 ounces of "fluid cannabis oil." The catch is, that oil can contain no more than 5 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principal psychoactive component of cannabis and also one of its chief medicinal compounds. Scientific research has shown that all the cannabinoids found in the marijuana plant, including THC and CBD, work best when used together, a phenomenon known as the "Entourage Effect."

Georgia's new medical marijuana law, a slight improvement on the "CBD only" laws passed by lawmakers in other conservative states, makes it legal to use cannabis oil to treat patients with epilepsy and other seizure disorders; Lou Gehrig's disease; cancer; multiple sclerosis; Crohn's disease; mitochondrial disease; Parkinson's disease; and sickle cell anemia.

"For the families enduring separation and patients suffering pain, the wait is finally over," Gov. Deal said, his voice cracking. "Now, Georgia children and their families may return home, while continuing to receive much-needed care.

"Patients such as Haleigh Cox, for whom this bill is named, and others suffering from debilitating conditions can now receive the treatment they need, in the place where they belong -- Georgia," Deal said.

U.S.: Smackdown! Congressmen Tell Justice Department To Halt Medical Marijuana Prosecutions

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In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder released Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) refuted the Justice Department’s recent interpretation of a spending provision intended to protect state medical marijuana laws and confirmed that any criminal or civil action against medical marijuana providers is a violation of federal law. The full letter is available at http://www.mpp.org/DOJletter.

The letter comes in response to statements made last week by a Justice Department spokesman to The Los Angeles Times. In the article, the spokesman said the Justice Department can still prosecute medical marijuana cases, notwithstanding the spending restriction adopted by Congress. The full article is available at http://mppne.ws/1a6F6bb.

In the letter, the Congressmen call the Justice Department’s interpretation “emphatically wrong” and ask Holder to “bring [the] Department back into compliance with federal law” by halting prosecutions and asset forfeiture actions in states with medical marijuana laws.

Louisiana: Voters Could Decide On Marijuana Legalization Next Year

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

A Louisiana lawmaker has proposed putting marijuana legalization on the Presidential election ballot next year for a statewide vote.

Rep. Dalton Honore (D-Baton Rouge) has filed a bill, HB 117, to put possession, distribution and dispensing of cannabis and its derivatives on the Louisiana ballot November 8, 2016, reports Julia O'Donoghue at The Times-Picayune. Voters would be deciding not just the Presidential race, but also Congressional seats that day.

In a Louisiana State University survey last year, 79 percent of Louisianans indicated support for some form of marijuana legalization. If Honore's initiative got on the ballot and passed, people 21 and older would be able to possess and buy cannabis without criminal charges.

"If I can get it to the people, it will pass with flying colors," Honore said.

According to Honore, criminal charges for marijuana have already ruined too many lives in Louisiana. As of June 2013, 1,372 Louisianans were serving prison sentences for simple cannabis possession. The average marijuana sentence in Louisiana is 8.4 years; more than 78 percent of these offenders are African American.

U.S.: Attorney General Holder To Resign; Will His Replacement Follow Through On Reform?

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AG Holder Made Unprecedented Efforts to Address Mass Incarceration and Failed Drug War

Drug Policy Alliance Calls On President Obama to Appoint Replacement Who Will Follow Through on Crucial Criminal Justice Reforms

By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday announced that he will be resigning from office once a replacement is found. Drug policy and criminal justice reform advocates expressed disappointment he is leaving office, praising his leadership and calling on President Obama to nominate a replacement who will carry on Holder’s reform work.

Holder's career as AG, which spanned five and a half years, included a number of drug policy reforms to which he reconfirmed his commitment in a Thursday interview with Katie Couric. In the interview, Holder said science should be the basis for making decisions about the scheduling of marijuana, and that the sentencing of nonviolent drug offenders is a serious civil rights issue.

“Holder will go down in history as the Attorney General who began unwinding the war on drugs and steering our country away from mass incarceration,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “President Obama should replace him with someone who is going to carry on that legacy of reform.”

U.S.: Senate To Vote On House-Approved Amendment To Protect Medical Marijuana States

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The Senate is expected to vote — possibly as soon as Thursday night or Friday — on a measure that is intended to shield medical marijuana patients and providers from enforcement of federal laws in states where medical marijuana is legal.

The amendment to S. 2347, the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, to be offered by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), is intended to prohibit the Department of Justice, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, from spending funds to raid and arrest state-licensed medical marijuana patients and providers. It will be the first time the amendment has been offered in the Senate.

The House medical marijuana amendment was offered by six Republicans and six Democrats: Reps. Rohrabacher (R-CA), Farr (D-CA), Young (R-AK), Blumenauer (D-OR), McClintock (R-CA), Cohen (D-TN), Broun (R-GA), Polis (D-CO), Stockman (R-TX), Lee (D-CA), Amash (R-MI) and Titus (D-NV). 170 Democrats and 49 Republicans voted for the amendment. It was approved on May 30 by a vote of 219-189.

“Poll after poll shows 70 to 80 percent of Americans support medical marijuana," said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "Even among conservatives, most oppose enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states where marijuana is legal for some purpose.

U.S.: TV Ads Call Out Congressional Opponents of Medical Marijuana

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Patient advocates are producing ads in an effort to educate public, hold federal policymakers accountable

The medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is running 30-second TV advertisements on MSNBC in Maryland and South Florida over the next few days to draw attention to Members of Congress who opposed medical marijuana reform in last week's House vote.

One of the ads focuses on Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), who spoke out on the House floor against a measure that restricts Justice Department funds spent on medical marijuana enforcement in states that have legalized its use. Despite the recent passage of a medical marijuana law in his State of Maryland, Rep. Harris made the claim Friday that "Marijuana is neither safe nor legal."

The other ad focuses on Democratic National Committee Chair, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), who was one of only 18 House Democrats to vote against the medical marijuana measure last week. Notably, Rep. Wasserman Schultz voted contrary to several other Democrats in her South Florida delegation.

U.S.: Thousands of Prisoners Apply For Obama's Drug Clemency Program

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

More than 18,000 U.S. prisoners completed electronic surveys last month to apply for reduced sentences under President Barack Obama's new program designed to clear federal prisons of nonviolent offenders.

The federal Department of Justice in April announced a major new initiative that solicits petitions from inmates who have served more than 10 years for a nonviolent crime; most of these crimes are drug-related, reports Lis Goodwin at Yahoo News.

Federal prisoners are always able to petition the President to have their sentences commuted, but the new program is intended to give a break to those who were sentenced under the draconian mandatory minimums of now-defunct drug laws that increased the federal prison population by 800 percent since they were passed in the Reagan Administration.

Before the new program, about 18,000 federal prisoners had applied for commuted sentences over the previous 12 years combined. The clemency program is part of Obama's transformation from granting the fewest pardons of any modern President, in his first term, to potentially commuting the sentences of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders in his second.

Such a potentially large grant of clemency hasn't been seen since President Gerald Ford offered amnesty to Vietnam-era draft dodgers back in 1974.

U.S.: Atty. Gen. Holder 'Cautiously Optimistic' About Legalization; Admits He's Tried Weed

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said he is "cautiously optimistic" about marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington state, but added it's tough to predict where legalization will be in 10 years. In the same interview, Holder, the nation's top law enforcement official, admitted he had tried pot in college.

"I think there might have been a burst of feeling that what happened in Washington and Colorado was going to be soon replicated across the country," Holder told Ryan J. Reilly of The Huffington Post. "I'm not sure that is necessarily the case.

"I think a lot of states are going to be looking to see what happens in Washington, what happens in Colorado before those decisions are made in substantial parts of the country," he said.

The Department of Justice has allowed marijuana legalization to go forward in the two states where votes chose that course back in November 2012, and has issued guidance to federal prosecutors that is intended to open up banking services for cannabis businesses that are legal under state law.

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