“I really don’t think it’s going to happen,” she says of the possibility that a traveler would be determined to be a legal guinea pig over a few grams of weed. Travelers who are carrying will first be asked to simply throw their pot in the trash. “It’s a unique situation that Colorado faces right now. We’re dependent on federal grants, and we don’t want to put our funding in jeopardy because of marijuana.”
Industries across the state are facing the same types of tests. The Colorado Supreme Court recently agreed to hear the case of a quadriplegic medical marijuana patient who was fired from his job answering telephones for Dish Network after he tested positive for pot. The case could affect thousands of employers with zero-tolerance policies toward drugs.
Banks could theoretically face federal racketeering charges for laundering the proceeds of a federally prohibited substance, which is why few of them are willing to risk doing business with marijuana retail stores. On Friday the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network issued a long awaited guidance memo for financial institutions telling them it’s OK to do business with marijuana operations, as long as they conduct detailed due diligence on the pot shops and report any suspicious activity to the feds. While that may be reassuring, it’s only temporarily so.
“Since the guidance issued (on Friday) could easily be reversed by a future administration, it may not provide all the protections that people in the marijuana and banking industries need to feel comfortable moving forward,” said Tom Angell, chairman of the advocacy group Marijuana Majority, based in Washington, D.C. It’s hard to fault the banks for taking a cautious approach, given that the federal government has a long history of making examples of pot smokers and the people or institutions that enable them.
The result of this uncertainty, though, is that pot shops are bursting with cash. A million dollars per day in sales is a tempting target for thieves.
But adversity also breeds opportunity. On opening day at the Medicine Man, customers like Pepper made their way through a virtual gauntlet of heavily armed guards from Blue Line Protection Group — the first marijuana-specific security company in Colorado, says spokesman Benjamin Little. When the stores opened for business Jan. 1, the company was contracted with 12 dispensaries and employed about 50 people, mostly veterans and former cops.
Like the industry it oversees, Little says, the firm is expected to do nothing but grow.