Cannabis Prohibition Is Dangerous: Portland Robberies Show the Need for Banking Access

It feels good to be legalizing cannabis state by state as prohibition has done so much harm over the decades, but federal prohibition can’t end soon enough. Rooted in racism, the United State’s enforcement of the Marihuana Tax Act and draconian state laws have led to wasted resources, ruined lives, and an infringement of constitutional civil liberties.

Even in states where cannabis is legal, prohibition continues harm innocent, nonviolent people. Racist Harry Anslinger’s war against the cannabis community, which led to the greater Drug War, initially targeted nonconformists and minorities, including Mexican immigrants and Black jazz musicians (such as the great Billie Holiday). Anslinger, needing to keep his federal drug enforcement job following the end of alcohol prohibition, used Reefer Madness propaganda to perpetuate a wave of terror across the United States. Allied with newspaper oligarch William Randolph Hearst, a proponent of misinformation-spewing yellow journalism to achieve political goals, Anslinger published what became known as his “Gore Files” filled with outright lies meant to inflame the masses about the evils of marijuana.

Of the 200 gory crime stories blamed on cannabis, like Victor Licata slaughtering his family, 198 were found to be misattributed while the other two have no records, thus likely fabrications altogether. Unfortunately, Anslinger’s war on the cannabis community has caused countless real-world horror stories, even up to the death of a Portland father, murdered in cold blood during an armed robbery spree targeting dispensaries in beautiful Portland, Oregon. While Reefer Madness prohibitionists will try to pin the robberies on cannabis itself, reasonable people know that it is federal prohibition forcing retailers to be cash-only businesses that’s to blame, not a plant that even Anslinger himself understood didn’t make people violent (he just needed job security and to promote his racism).

The Willamette Week’s Tess Riski recently reported on the violent crime spree targeting Portland’s cannabis retailers. Congressman Earl Blumenauer stressed the importance of providing state-regulated cannabis businesses access to banking services:

He believes that federal legalization of cannabis—or, more specifically, the passage of a bill called the Secure and Fair Enforcement, or SAFE, Banking Act—would significantly reduce the number of weed robberies and burglaries, because there would be little to no cash on the stores’ premises.

If passed, the SAFE Banking Act would provide a “safe harbor” that allows banks to offer financial services like loans, credit card processing, and access to capital to the cannabis industry without criminal risk.

“If they were able to have normal financial transactions, they wouldn’t have this danger of repeated robbery,” Blumenauer says. “It would take away this tempting target for thugs who know these are successful businesses [that] have lots of cash.”

Riski’s reporting discovered that more than 100 Portland-area dispensaries have been robbed within the last year. These robberies have led to traumatized employees staring down the barrel of guns, being zip tied, and feeling like the Portland Police Bureau isn’t doing enough to protect them and investigate these crimes. Most tragic, Michael Arthur, a forty four year-old father, was murdered while doing his budtending job at Cured Green. While no law can bring back Mr. Arthur to his friends and family or undo the trauma victims of these robberies have faced, we need to do our part in eliminating future harms of cannabis prohibition. While we are anxious to end Harry Anslinger’s deadly legacy once and for all, we need to take the next common sense step in passing the SAFE Banking Act. Lives literally depend upon it.

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