Highway robbery and the war against legal marijuana

On various occasions final year, armored vehicles transporting hard cash from licensed marijuana dispensaries have been focused and looted for a merged whole of more than $1 million on the side of the freeway in the Mojave Desert exterior of San Bernardino, California.

It seemed as if the  armored vehicle provider, Empyreal Logistics, experienced unwittingly observed itself caught in the middle of an organized exertion to disrupt, intimidate and bankrupt the authorized marijuana trade—and it wasn’t the very first time. Yet another Empyreal truck was specific in Kansas in early 2021, while ferrying dollars from a health care dispensary in Missouri to a credit score union in Colorado. 

Nonetheless, these weren’t robberies perpetrated by some roving team of bandits or a modern reincarnation of the Gap in the Wall Gang — they ended up seizures designed by local law enforcement using a course of action recognized as Civil Asset Forfeiture

In none of these conditions were prison fees introduced versus the armored truck enterprise, cannabis dispensaries or even the fiscal establishments. In reality, the drivers them selves weren’t even issued traffic citations, enable by itself billed with currently being complicit in a legal conspiracy. Alternatively, the dollars was seized on a generalized suspicion that such significant sums could, perhaps, be interpreted as prospective proof of money laundering — never ever head that, thanks largely to federal rules, the marijuana field is compelled to run nearly totally in funds. 

Considerably from remaining proof of revenue laundering, substantial sums of money in the hashish marketplace are a regimen part of a prosperous company design — not to point out that transporting it is really significantly the entire business enterprise model of an armored courier.  

In Kansas, the Drug Enforcement Company had focused the truck organization when they realized it would be checking out a dispensary, then explained to nearby authorities to “crush each individual 1 of their vehicles that they can identify” and confiscate the hard cash onboard. Similarly, outdoors of San Bernardino, nearby sheriff’s deputies specific Empyreal vehicles — in the long run seizing $1.1 million in legal hashish proceeds headed to local economic institutions. 

In each just one of these circumstances, the hard cash was handed over to the federal government for forfeiture proceedings, with the knowledge that nearby law enforcement departments would obtain up to 80 percent of the whole dollars seized as aspect of the “equitable sharing” plan with federal authorities — directly incentivizing them to carry on the observe shifting forward.  

Given the fact that police departments can instantly income from these seizures without the need of actually getting to confirm any legal exercise, civil asset forfeiture has long been abused by authorities to boost their budgets. Here in Nevada, we’ve noticed our truthful share of forfeiture horror stories — with narratives reminiscent of soviet-model corruption alternatively than American legislation-enforcement practices.  

Just very last yr, for instance, a Marine Corps veteran traveling by way of Nevada to see his loved ones had his whole daily life price savings confiscated by Nevada Highway Patrol all through a regime targeted visitors prevent without the need of any criminal costs ever currently being filed in opposition to him. The mere fact that he experienced a large sum of income was, in and of itself, adequate “reason” for local officers to go away him penniless and stranded on the facet of the road.  

Nonetheless, law enforcement’s escalation from focusing on random motorists to targeting armored vehicles exhibits a type of brazen prison ingenuity not found considering the fact that outlaw gangs graduated to lender robbery in the Wild West. As Paul Newman’s character mentioned in the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Child, “Banks are far better than trains… you know the revenue is in there!” Perhaps, supplied the revenue incentives law enforcement departments face, it was just a subject of time just before they came to a comparable realization about armored vans. 

The Los Angeles Instances has rightly pointed out that these forfeiture situations also raise inquiries about regardless of whether the Biden Justice Division is engaged in a deliberate endeavor to disrupt the functions of an market that stays unlawful on the federal degree — in spite of crystal clear federal tips for a “hands off” strategy. It’s a acceptable concern. However, the much more worrying facet ought to be the complicity of community regulation enforcement. 

Not because the days of anyone driving “shotgun” on a Wells Fargo mentor have most lawful companies experienced to fear a lot about their armored couriers getting plundered on the way to the financial institution. The notion that operators in the lawful cannabis industry could in fact have these problems is lousy more than enough. The fact that it is their community regulation enforcement organizations undertaking the plundering is a unhappy statement on just how a great deal the marketplace continues to be on the lawful outskirts, inspite of recent decriminalization initiatives. 

Definitely, it is one particular of the several causes The States Reform Act, launched by Agent Nancy Mace (R-SC), is so necessary. By legalizing cannabis on the federal level, the Act would take away at the very least one (flimsy) justification for the feds to engage in this kind of appalling practices. It would also give those people working in the marketplace a codified stage of legitimacy they at present lack amongst legislation enforcement companies at all stages of govt. 

Nevertheless, it wouldn’t resolve the difficulty in its entirety. Immediately after all, prohibitionists are even now alive and properly in American politics, and the War on Medicine continues to be a highly profitable cavalcade of civil rights abuses for area regulation enforcement — with practices these as Civil Asset Forfeiture proving on their own stubbornly resistant to reform.    

For the Nevada marijuana current market, the occasions in California and Kansas should really be an unsettling reminder of how precariously dependent the market is on the whims of governing administration officials. Federal authorities have been much less than friendly to the sector because the early days of legalization, and it has been struggling to run inside a patchwork of baffling, intricate and generally contradictory lawful specifications given that the beginning. 

The plan that it should also contend with highway robbers who operate underneath the coloration of regulation reveals just how a lot the War on Medicine has corrupted law enforcement’s being familiar with of what it signifies to “protect and provide.” 

Michael Schaus is a communications and branding expert based mostly in Las Vegas, Nevada, and founder of Schaus Innovative LLC — an company devoted to supporting corporations, organizations and activists tell their story and encourage alter. He is the former communications director for Nevada Plan Investigate Institute and has more than a decade of knowledge in public affairs commentary as a columnist, political humorist, and radio chat demonstrate host. Comply with him at SchausCreative.com or on Twitter at @schausmichael.