Tag Archives: regulation

Warren wants to pull pot shops out of banking limbo

As pot shops sprout in states that have legalized the drug, they face a critical stumbling block — lack of access to the kind of routine banking services other businesses take for granted.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, is leading an effort to make sure vendors working with legal marijuana businesses, from chemists who test marijuana for harmful substances to firms that provide security, don’t have their banking services taken away.

It’s part of a wider effort by Warren and others to bring the burgeoning $7 billion marijuana industry in from a fiscal limbo she said forces many shops to rely solely on cash, making them tempting targets for criminals.

After voters in Warren’s home state approved a November ballot question to legalize the recreational use of pot, she joined nine other senators in sending a letter to a key federal regulator, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, calling on it to issue additional guidance to help banks provide services to marijuana shop vendors.

Twenty-eight states have legalized marijuana for medicinal or recreational use.

Warren, a member of the Senate Banking Committee, said there are benefits to letting marijuana-based businesses move away from a cash-only model.

“You make sure that people are really paying their taxes. You know that the money is not being diverted to some kind of criminal enterprise,” Warren said recently. “And it’s just a plain old safety issue. You don’t want people walking in with guns and masks and saying, ‘Give me all your cash.””

A spokesman for the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network said the agency is reviewing the letter.

There has been some movement to accommodate the banking needs of marijuana businesses.

Two years ago, the U.S. Department of the Treasury gave banks permission to do business with legal marijuana entities under some conditions. Since then, the number of banks and credit unions willing to handle pot money rose from 51 in 2014 to 301 in 2016.

Warren, however, said fewer than 3 percent of the nation’s 11,954 federally regulated banks and credit unions are serving the cannabis industry.

Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, a trade organization for 1,100 marijuana businesses nationwide, said access to banking remains a top concern.

“What the industry needs is a sustainable solution that services the entire industry instead of tinkering around the edges,” Taylor said. “You don’t have to be fully in favor of legalized marijuana to know that it helps no one to force these businesses outside the banking system.”

Sam Kamin, a professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law who studies marijuana regulation, said there’s only so much states can do on their own.

“The stumbling block over and over again is the federal illegality,” he said.

The federal government lumps marijuana into the same class of drugs as heroin, LSD and peyote. Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration has essentially turned a blind eye to state laws legalizing the drug, and supporters of legalizing marijuana hope Republican President-elect Donald Trump will follow suit.

Trump officials did not respond to a request for comment. During the presidential campaign, Trump said states should be allowed to legalize marijuana and has expressed support for medicinal use. But he also has sounded more skeptical about recreational use, and his pick for attorney general, Alabama U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, is a stern critic.

Some people in the marijuana industry say the banking challenges are merely growing pains for an industry evolving from mom-and-pop outlets.

Nicholas Vita, CEO of Columbia Care, one of the nation’s largest providers of medical marijuana products, said it’s up to marijuana businesses to make sure their financial house is in order.

“It’s not just as simple as asking the banks to open their doors,” Vita said. “The industry also needs to develop a set of standards that are acceptable to the banks.”

Kids in court make plea for action against climate change

Young Washington citizens on Nov. 3 sat in a packed King County courtroom and watched as attorney, Andrea Rodgers argued for their right to a healthy environment and safe climate.

Judge Hollis Hill heard oral argument in the case brought by seven young petitioners to address Washington Department of Ecology’s persistent refusal to set science-based carbon pollution limits.

This is the second time this year the petitioners have found themselves in a King County courtroom.

In May, Hill heard oral argument in the case and, based on the undisputed climate science, ordered the state agency to reconsider its first denial of the youths’ petition. The state then denied the youths’ petition a second time.

On Nov. 3, the petitioners heard the attorney for the state tell the court, “I do not know if there is an inherit right for a healthful environment” and proceeded to tell the court that it was up for the Legislature to decide.

Ecology was steadfast in its position that it is not required to regulate carbon dioxide emissions based on the current science. 

“These brave kids have worked extremely hard to present Ecology with the most current and best available climate science, all of which the agency has ignored,” said Rodgers. “It is now time for the court to step in and direct Ecology to initiate a rulemaking process based on the best available science — not the most convenient policy —  to protect these youths’ fundamental rights. Ecology’s legal obligations to protect the air and water resources in this state are clear; now it is up to the judge to enforce those laws.”

In response to the youth petitioners’ lawsuit, the state plans to initiate rulemaking “to set a regulatory cap on carbon emissions and to develop reductions in carbon dioxide emissions using its existing authority.”

As it stands, the state plans to use targets from the 2008 standards that the agency has already admitted “should be adjusted to better reflect the current science” and “need to be more aggressive in order for Washington to do its part to address climate risks.”

Rodgers made it clear to the court that Ecology’s non-scientific rulemaking effort does not remedy the youth petitioners’ legal claims.

The youths argue that a carbon cap and emissions reductions must be based on a target of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations of no more than 350 parts per million as put forth by their experts.

Rodgers argued to the court that more delay would lock in the infringement of her client’s fundamental rights. 

Hill is reviewing the briefing in the case and will issue a written decision before the end of the year.

Rodgers is with the Western Environmental Law Center.

The lawsuit was filed with the help of Our Children’s Trust, an Oregon-based nonprofit.


‘Fairness Doctrine’ a thing of the past

My mother asked me recently why “bullies” are allowed to broadcast on radio and TV. “Why are they allowed to badmouth people and shout down people who don’t agree with them? Isn’t there a law?”

Like many media consumers of a certain age, mom was recalling the kinder, gentler time of the Federal Communications Commission regulation known as the “Fairness Doctrine.”

The Fairness Doctrine was developed in the early years of radio and TV. Because there were a finite number of broadcast frequencies, licensed stations were deemed “public trustees.” In exchange for their use of public airwaves, stations had the obligation to seek out and reflect a variety of views, not just those of their owners. Broadcasters were required to use airtime to explore matters of public interest and to allow opposing views to be aired.

(This FCC regulation did not require “equal time” for all views. It is federal law that required broadcasters to provide equal time in their public affairs and news programming for candidates running for elective office.)

Like my mom, I remember the good old days when newscasters would make an editorial comment on behalf of their station. Whatever the opinion, it was prudently phrased and calmly delivered. It was followed with the sober statement, “We will allow responsible parties with opposing views to respond to this editorial,” and they dutifully aired opposing views.

Some broadcasters didn’t like the regulation, but in the case of Red Lion Broadcasting v. FCC (1969), the Supreme Court came down on the side of viewers with this astonishing ruling:

“A license permits broadcasting, but the licensee has no constitutional right to be the one to hold the license or monopolize a frequency to the exclusion of his fellow citizens. There is nothing in the First Amendment which prevents the government from requiring a licensee to share his frequency with others. … It is the right of the viewers and listeners, not the right of the broadcasters, which is paramount.”

Many factors shifted sentiment and led to the demise of the Fairness Doctrine. Foremost was the election of Ronald Reagan, whose administration championed deregulation. Reagan’s chairman of the FCC, Mark Fowler, who had been a broadcast industry lawyer, criticized the idea of broadcasters as public trustees. He called them vital “marketplace participants” and famously remarked that TV was “just another appliance — it’s a toaster with pictures.”

Broadcasters had formed a powerful lobby — the National Association of Broadcasters. The association argued that the Fairness Doctrine actually chilled freedom of speech. Fear of demands for response time and license challenges, they said, prevented many stations from addressing public issues.

The rise of cable and satellite media and the proliferation of hundreds of channels of programming became the most effective argument against the Fairness Doctrine. With so many program options and diverse points of view, why did we need a federal regulation on fairness? 

The Fairness Doctrine was repealed in 1987 and all attempts to revive it have failed. Its repeal unleashed a new era of uninhibited speech, but discussion is often unfair, biased and shrill in the extreme. 

Repeal has contributed to the corrosion of civility and to a dangerous Balkanization of the U.S. into fierce, intractable political factions who watch separate programs and do not listen to each other.

Abolition of the Fairness Doctrine has not served the country well.

Environmental group sues over cruise ships’ sewage discharges

An environmental group is suing in federal court seeking better regulation of cruise ships and the sewage they dump into the ocean.

Friends of the Earth, represented by Earthjustice, want more effective regulation of the industry, said to dump more than a billion gallons of sewage — much of it poorly treated — into the ocean last year.

The group also is seeking better regulation of the sewage discharged from cargo ships and oil tankers.

Friends of the Earth said in a news release on May 1 that the sewage from the ships pollutes beaches, contaminates coral reefs and destroys marine ecology.

Sewage contamination also puts swimmers at elevated risk of illness and can make seafood caught by coastal fishermen unsafe to eat.

Also, discharges from ships disrupt coastal economies.

In 2012, ship sewage contributed to elevated levels of fecal coliform that led to more than 31,000 days of beach advisories and closings.

“Sewage-contaminated waters not only harm sea life, but also harm people who use these waters,” said Marcie Keever, oceans and vessels program director at Friends of the Earth. “These ship sewage discharges contribute to the risk of serious, potentially life-threatening health effects such as gastrointestinal illnesses, hepatitis, ear nose and throat illnesses, vomiting, and respiratory diseases. The EPA reported in 2000 that its ship sewage treatment standards were out of date and needed an update. After 38 years, it is time for EPA to act.”

Sewage discharge close to shore has been banned in the New England area but not in the Northwest, the Gulf of Mexico or the Southeast.

Several years ago, the Friends of the Earth petitioned the EPA and asked that it update its 1976 performance standards and pollution limits for onboard marine sanitation devices — the systems used to treat sewage on ships.

The EPA has not proposed any changes.

A report in 2013 from the group indicated that Disney, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Cunard and Seabourn Cruise Line have installed advanced sewage treatment systems in a majority of their ships, while Carnival, Silversea, Costa and Crystal Cruises received failing grades in the review.

What do you know about e-cigarettes? At a glance…

ELECTRONIC CIGARETTES: The battery-powered devices made of plastic or metal heat a liquid nicotine solution, creating vapor that users inhale. Some models are disposable, and some are designed to be refilled with cartridges or tanks containing what enthusiasts call “e-juice.” Some e-cigarettes are made to look like a real cigarette with a tiny light on the tip that glows like the real thing.

WHAT’S IN THEM: The ingredients in the liquid used in most e-cigarettes include nicotine, water, glycerol, propylene glycol and flavorings. Propylene glycol is a thick fluid sometimes used in antifreeze but also used as a food ingredient.

SELLING POINTS: Users say e-cigarettes address both the addictive and behavioral aspects of smoking. Smokers get their nicotine without the thousands of chemicals found in regular cigarettes. And they get to hold something shaped like a cigarette, while puffing and exhaling something that looks like smoke without the ash, odor and tar.

THE WORRIES: Scientists haven’t finished much research on e-cigarettes, their safety and whether they help smokers quit, and the studies that have been done have been inconclusive. The federal government is pouring millions of dollars into research to supplement independent and company studies looking at the health risks of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products – as well as who uses them and why.

GROWING MARKET: The industry has rocketed from thousands of users in 2006 to several million worldwide, leading to the rise of more than 200 brands. Sales have been estimated to reach nearly $2 billion in 2013.

ARRAY OF FLAVORS: While some e-cigarette makers are limiting offerings to tobacco and menthol flavors, others are selling candy-like flavors like cherry and strawberry – barred for use in regular cigarettes because of the worry that the flavors are used to appeal to children.