02/20/19 Senator John Whitmire

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
John Whitmire
Law Enforcement Action Partnership

Drug Truth Network Editorial re fiasco bust in Houston, interview with Texas Senator John Whitmire + US Congressional Hearing on Safe Banking Act for marijuana business owners and employees featuring Fiona Ma California Sec of Treasury & Maj Neill Franklin Exec Dir of Law Enforcement Action Partnership, LEAP.cc

Audio file


FEBRUARY 20, 2019


DEAN BECKER: Hello, my friends. I am Dean Becker, the Reverend Most High, and I welcome you to this special edition of Cultural Baggage.

We're going to begin today's program kind of in reverse. I'm going to give you first a Drug Truth Network editorial, then we'll hear from a Texas senator, John Whitmire, about the need for change in our fair state. And then we'll hear about the banking act that's being considered in the US Congress, and the need to protect those marijuana business owners and their employees.

This is a Drug Truth Network editorial.

There's a horrible drug war story unfolding in Houston, but it's just another drug war story. Seems the cops got a call from somebody's mother that the daughter was using heroin at a certain house.

The cops sent in a confidential informant who told them he bought and used some black tar heroin, but later the confidential informant said no, he did not. They talked about they had some heroin planted in the glove box of the cop car, nobody's quite sure just what happened.

Untrustworthy call from somebody's mama. Untrustworthy, no actual confidential informant, drugs misidentified several times, still not certain of any powders they may have found, cop and the judge both seek and approve a no-knock warrant. Cops not in uniforms. Cops without bodycams. No-knock broach in midafternoon, killed dog, homeowners. Cops wounded by widespread friendly fire.

The union spokesman immediately challenged the media to steer clear of investigating this situation. There is to be no investigation by the Rangers, no independent force. No heroin found at all. And this is all done for two thirds of an ounce of marijuana, which I submit can be found in more than ten percent of the homes in Houston, or any neighborhood in the United States.

Some nebulous white powder, rush job, personal favor to somebody's scared mommy. This is a prime example of how a hundred years into our eternal embrace of drug prohibition, we have never achieved any of its stated goals.

Over the decades, failure are recycled again and again and again. Corrupt cops, corrupt jail and prison guards, corrupt crime lab, corrupt judges, corrupt politicians, corrupt prosecutors. Corrupt drug war, proven, exposed, again and again, yet forgiven again and again by cops, judges, politicians, and prosecutors.

More than 47 million drug arrests. Drugs are cheaper, more available, more deadly than ever before. Terrorists, cartels, and gangs rejoice because the US demands the world embrace this lie forever. Five hundred billion dollars a year will always remain enticing.

With no independent investigation, this bust will be eternally suspect. I would advise the chief to call for an independent investigation. Chief Acevedo is a good man given a task equal to that of Sisyphus, who is destined to roll that boulder up the mountainside forever.

When will we end the war on drugs? How can we stop terrorists from growing flowers we forbid? How can we prevent the takeover of villages in Guatemala and Honduras by barbarous cartels? Who knows how to take away the power and profits of the thousands of US gangs selling contaminated drugs to our children? Who will stop the tens of thousands of needless overdose deaths that occur when folks do not know the contents of the drug they are taking?

Consider the horrible consequences of believing in this eternal war. Who knows the answer to a simple question: what is the benefit of drug war? Anybody?

There is nobody who wants to answer that question. There never will be.

Today, I'm really proud to have an elected politician willing to discuss the parameters and the need for change. And, with that, I want to go ahead and welcome to today's show the dean of the Texas Senate, Senator John Whitmire. He represents the Fifteenth Senatorial District here in Texas, and he is my senator.

And with that, I want to welcome Senator John Whitmire.

TX STATE SENATOR JOHN WHITMIRE: Thank you, Dean. I appreciate the opportunity to visit with you.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. You know, I feel blessed, or maybe the world should feel blessed, that more and more politicians are starting to step up and address this, I don't know, some say fifty, some say a hundred year old drug war, and its ramifications, and I thank you for being one of those to be among the first here in the state of Texas.

TX STATE SENATOR JOHN WHITMIRE: Sure. It's part of my job, as I see it, to try to make changes. We've done some good things in the criminal justice system, but we've got a lot of things that still need fixing.


TX STATE SENATOR JOHN WHITMIRE: We need to do more on mental health, for certain. We don't have an adequate mental health system in the state. So mental health patients end up in the criminal justice system, unfortunately.

And then, of course, one issue we're addressing this session, that we've been fighting, and certainly it's been in federal court in Harris County, is the bail bond system, which I think is terribly broken.

DEAN BECKER: Well, yes sir, and, yesterday, the day we're recording this, the Houston Chronicle came out with two major stories, an editorial, and an investigation of the bond, bail bond situation, and the changes that seem to be coming forward. What's your thought, sir, is it going to gain traction?

TX STATE SENATOR JOHN WHITMIRE: Well, the Chronicle certainly did a good editorial acknowledging that we need changing, and supporting the legislation that we're trying to move. We actually passed a meaningful bill out of the Senate last session, but the bail bond industry killed it in the Texas House.

So we're back at the starting gate. I'm guardedly optimistic, although the resistance is strong. But, I think the legislators are better -- familiar with the issues, the Harris County federal lawsuit has done a good job of highlighting how broken the bail bond system is, so we're going to do our best to pass it.

If we're not successful, I do believe the federal courts across Texas will eventually implement changes as they are in Dallas and Houston.

It's just so outrageous and so obvious that we're confining people simply because they can't afford a bail bond, when a personal recognizance bond would work very well, no compromise to public safety, would save taxpayers millions of dollars, and more importantly keep families together, allowing someone charged, not convicted, but charged, to promise to return to court on their court hearing date, and in the meantime they go back to work and being with their family, and living a somewhat normal life.

Also, our legislation will address the fact that some violent offenders, some bad criminals, such as human traffickers, child molesters, other offenses, can get a high bond, but if they happen to have the resources, such as a major drug dealer, he or she can pay a large bond fee and go back to their criminal activity.

So, we've got folks locked up that are low risk, should not be locked up, and then we've got high risk people because they've got a lot of money can walk out the front door. So it's long overdue to be fixed.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, John, and I look at it like this, that, what many people don't realize is, say a youngster, 18, 20 years old, gets locked up. They take you to jail, they tow your car to the impound, they, you know, what's -- what's a big problem for some of the younger kids I talk to is that because of cell phones, nobody knows a phone number. They don't know who to call.


DEAN BECKER: They don't know the number and they may spend a day or two figuring out how to call mother. And it all compounds, as you say, you know, we wind up where they lose their job, girlfriend, apartment, you can't afford to bail their car out. It's ridiculous, isn't it?

TX STATE SENATOR JOHN WHITMIRE: It is ridiculous, and to the cell phone and numbers, I would be in a hell of a mess if I was confined without my cell phone. They swear at the sheriff's office that they allow them to take some numbers off the phone, but I wouldn't bet on it.

So, that's a separate and important issue, that we really do, because of the communication that we use, we've lost the numbers that we need. But, the sad note is, there's a lot of people that have an occasion to go to jail, maybe a DWI, a first time DWI. The bond's a thousand dollars if you want to go back to work the next morning.

I've read about 80 percent of Americans do not have any surplus money at all. They live month to month.


TX STATE SENATOR JOHN WHITMIRE: So, you get a DWI, you can't leave to go back to work. Unfortunately, a lot of people go ahead and plead guilty to an offense that they probably didn't commit, or, you know, driving with suspended license, some, really some economic crimes.

So, then, they sit there, and or they plead guilty, often to offenses that they could probably successfully oppose, so it's just a broken system. The federal courts have recognized it, the legislature ought to recognize it. Let Texas draw a bail bond piece of legislation that is fair and does not compromise the public's safety, but keeps the low risk folks with their jobs and their families and the high risk folks off the streets.

DEAN BECKER: Well, folks, we're speaking to a man with over thirty years of service in the Texas Senate. We're speaking with Senator John Whitmire. John, I want to, I don't know, shift the discussion just a bit. Last week, I went to Austin, it was the marijuana lobbyist day, I guess you'd call it. Four hundred plus citizens from around Texas showed up in buses and, you know, wanted to appeal to their representatives, to their senators, to move the bar a little further.

We have probably the tiniest, least effective medical marijuana law there is at this point, and to at least move the bar another step, allow for more people with different maladies to make use of it, perhaps to allow THC into the product, to move into the modern age. Your thought in that regard, sir.

TX STATE SENATOR JOHN WHITMIRE: I'm not sure of the amount of support at this time in the legislature. It's certainly being discussed more, and that's a positive step.

You've got to keep in mind that the legislature's still controlled by mostly rural Republicans. All you have to do is look at the state leadership. But, to answer you specifically, we're getting there. I just don't know how quick we'll get there.

I mean, the medical was so hard to pass. I guess we did that four years ago. A lot of things have changed nationwide. Of course, I personally think we need a national policy. I can't imagine going much longer where you have states that, they've legalized it, literally, and then you fly, you know in between those states, and it's really, really creating difficulties.

But, the Texas legislature, you know, we're only there 140 days. We've already used up about 20 of them. So, it will be interesting how much traction it gets during this session. I know one effort in my committee is to try to get low level amount of marijuana just to be a class C misdemeanor, essentially a traffic ticket.

They're actually doing that in San Antonio and a couple of communities, so, we're trying to get it to where it's as low a so-called crime as possible, for low amounts for personal use.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I'm with you there, sir. I mean, I have a phrase I use on air, incrementalism is a killer, but I go along with it because it's all we've got.

TX STATE SENATOR JOHN WHITMIRE: Sure. But I don't have a reading on extension of broadening of the medical. We're all familiar with some horrible health issues that could be addressed --


TX STATE SENATOR JOHN WHITMIRE: -- by medical marijuana, but we're not there yet.

DEAN BECKER: No, sir. And I've been, you know, people known what I do, they contact me, I helped a little two year old who had brain damage.


DEAN BECKER: And they responded that he smiled again, he started babbling again.


DEAN BECKER: That it makes a difference in that parent's life, and then for the old folks like me, that, you know, I'm an alcoholic, and it helps me to avoid that lure of my drug of ruination.

But then, anyhow, John, I want to just say this, that there are a select few politicians, people who invest time and effort to dig down to the heart of the issue rather than just hearing the echoes from a hundred years past.


DEAN BECKER: And I thank you for being one of those people, for being my senator.

TX STATE SENATOR JOHN WHITMIRE: I appreciate it. I think it's a calling, I really do think public service is a calling, and we're there to make a difference, and, when I went down there, many years ago, there were a lot more of us that go there for the right reason. Now, you see folks that go down for a few, you know, hot button, emotional issues, social issues.


TX STATE SENATOR JOHN WHITMIRE: You notice we haven't heard about the bathroom bill this year, thank goodness. So anyway, we'll keep on fighting the good fight. Okeh?

DEAN BECKER: I do thank you for your time, and I look forward to some progress this year.


DEAN BECKER: Thank you, sir.


DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Rash, hives, difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest, yellow eyes, swelling of the tongue, hoarseness, dark urine, fainting, fever, irregular heartbeat, mental or mood changes, seizure, and death. Time's up! The answer, from the UCB Group: Xyzal, for asthma.

REPRESENTATIVE GREGORY W. MEEKS: As a Colorado member, and longstanding member of the Financial Services Committee, Mister Perlmutter has an example grasp of the issues at play, and has worked diligently to build a bipartisan coalition in partnership with our colleagues today, Mister Heck, Mister Strivers, and Mister Davidson, in drafting this Safe Banking Act.

REPRESENTATIVE ED PERLMUTTER: Thank you Mister Chairman, Ranking Member Luchtemeyer, Committee. Today's hearing is a big deal. It's a big deal. It's a big deal for thousands of employees and businesses across this country who've been put at risk because they are forced to deal in piles of cash while Congress stuck its head in the sand for the last twenty years.

Forty-seven states plus the District of Columbia have spoken and legalized some form of recreational or medical marijuana, including cannabiol. Three hundred eighteen point two million live in these forty-seven states. That's 97.7 percent of the population including every state represented by every member of this Financial Services Committee.

REPRESENTATIVE GREGORY W. MEEKS: Our first panelist is the Honorable Fiona Ma, who's the Treasurer of the state of California, a state treasurer and a member of the State Board of Equalization, Ms. Ma has had a unique vantage point to understand firsthand the challenges to state governments and to businesses of addressing the lack of banking services for cannabis related businesses.

Next is Major Neill Franklin, who is the Executive Director of Law Enforcement Action Partnership. Mister Franklin retired as a 34 year veteran of both the Maryland State Police and the Baltimore Police Department, who oversaw 17 separate drug task forces. He has served as an official representative for the Law Enforcement Action Partnership since 2007, and as executive director since 2010.

Mister Franklin's testimony is especially important as we consider the serious safety and security risks that emerge from the absence of banking services to cannabis businesses, effectively making them an all-cash business.

Now, I welcome the testimony of Ms. Ma.

FIONA MA: My name is Fiona Ma. I am a licensed CPA who is proud to serve as California's thirty-fourth state treasurer.

As the state's banker, 2.3 trillion dollars goes through my office. I oversee 85 billion dollars in bonds, and 92 billion dollars in short term investments for the state as well as local governments.

In addition, I chair sixteen boards, commissions, and authorities that provide financing for our schools, roads, housing, levies, public facilities, and other crucial infrastructure projects that help better the lives of California.

In 2014, I was elected to the State Board of Equalization, one of the two principal tax collection agencies in our state, where cannabis dispensaries are supposed to collect and remit sales taxes.

Duffel bags and sometimes suitcases of cash would arrive quarterly at some of our designated offices, and some folks had to drive 350 miles just to pay their taxes.

I asked how much we collected from the cannabis industry, and my agency really didn't know, since tax revenues are commingled and deposited with other cash tax payments.

I participated in educational tours in Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity Counties in California, also known as the Emerald Triangle, where legal outdoor harvests can generate up to 474 million dollars annually in revenue.

To better educate myself and my staff around barriers and challenges, we held public stakeholder meetings around transportation, track and trace, and banking.

Many business owners didn't know the local and state filing requirements, and many didn't even file their tax returns. And we were concerned with the public safety surrounding all cash businesses, and heard many off the record stories.

Eventually it became starkly clear that the big elephant in the room was lack of banking access. Additionally, we traveled to Colorado, Washington, and Canada, and met with executives of their respective tax collection departments to discuss their experience with this emerging industry around banking.

According to the Colorado Department of Revenue, overall cannabis revenue has increased dramatically, from approximately 68 million dollars in 2014, to over 266 million dollars in 2018. Additionally, Washington state has also seen a significant tax collection increase of 130 million from 2016 to 2017, when the state collected 319 million dollars in excise taxes.

Sales of legal cannabis in Washington have skyrocketed, from 259 million in fiscal year 2015 to 1.3 billion in fiscal year 2017. To put that in perspective, that is a 500 percent growth in two years.

Now we get to California. With nearly 40 million residents and more than a million medical cannabis patients, California's market represents about a third of the North American cannabis market.

In the first three quarters after legalizing adult use cannabis in November 2016, we collected approximately 228 million dollars in tax revenue. The cannabis market in California alone is expected to exceed 5.1 billion dollars in overall revenue in 2020, according to an Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics report.

This same report highlighted that the legal cannabis market could triple over the next four years, being worth as much as 32 billion dollars globally.

The US will fuel a majority of this revenue, and it's critical we accommodate the magnitude of this economic uptake with access to banking for this new state regulated industry.

And, since I only have five minutes, I was going to talk about the medicinal industry starting in San Francisco, but I see that my time is short, so I would like to just say that we are here in support of some sort of safe harbor for banks engaged in this industry, which we strongly support.

And, as one of the members mentioned, the Cole Memo was suspended, and it is, and has been, creating a lot of confusion. So, again, we supported the Safe Banking Act, which was originally introduced in 2017 by Congressman Perlmutter. The Safe Banking Act would provide a safe harbor for those federally regulated or federally insured banks and credit unions wishing to accommodate cannabis businesses in my state, and 32 others who have approved the use of cannabis in some form or another.

This is a necessary step, represents a positive evolution of public policy, and exhibits a commonsense approach to the problems I've described. So, I would be happy to answer any questions, and we have submitted my testimony for the record. Thank you very much.

REPRESENTATIVE GREGORY W. MEEKS: We'll take your testimony for the record. Major Neill.

NEILL FRANKLIN: Chairman Meeks, Chairwoman Waters, distinguished members of the Committee, thank you very much for the opportunity to present the views of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership in support of this legislation.

LEAP's mission is to unite and mobilize the voice of law enforcement in support of drug policy and criminal justice reforms that will make our communities safer.

LEAP envisions a world in which criminal justice and drug policies keep our communities safer. This is a quote directly from our website, and that quote is exactly what this hearing is about. It's about enacting policy that will dramatically enhance public safety within our communities.

Representative Perlmutter addressed the wishes of the people, so I'll move beyond that. I think we know what that is. This is not a niche business market. It's a significant part of our economy.

Licensed marijuana businesses are legitimate contributors to our economy. It follows that regulated banking, vendor relations, payroll, and tax payments should be permitted as part of that legitimacy, a condition that will further serve to dismantle the illicit market's influence in this growing industry, and help local economies.

Current conditions, which require all cash transactions for the most part, in every aspect of the business, encourage tax fraud, money laundering, and most importantly, leave legitimate businesses vulnerable to theft, robbery, and the violence that accompanies those crimes.

The Safe Banking Act presents us with an opportunity to greatly assist in stabilizing the industry and enhancing public safety.

As more legitimate businesses are established, opportunities for cash robberies will increase. As more dispensaries come on line, securing cash on site, transporting cash to secure locations, and managing cash payrolls are necessities for this business.

And criminal entities are quite adept at conducting high level reconnaissance of businesses and their security protocols when they know that businesses will have tens of thousands, and in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars on hand.

Although extremely important for business owners, and the people they employ, my greatest fear is not the loss of profit due to theft. It is the potential for serious assaults and death to the people attempting to protect that cash, who are merely responsible for it. I fear dispensary employees being at great risk. I fear for the safety of those transporting the cash, and I fear for the well being of employees on payday.

Two weeks' of pay for one employee can easily exceed a couple or a few thousand dollars. That one employee, trying to get home safely from work, is an attractive soft target score for any criminal. It's a very easy target for those who know what to look for.

Beyond any concern for protecting profit, we have a duty to protect the lives of community members working to earn a living.

In 2012, Melinda Haag, the US Attorney for Northern California, said this: Marijuana dispensaries are full of cash. They are at risk for being robbed, and many of them are.

Here's an example. In October 2012, three people kidnapped the owner of a lucrative dispensary in Orange County, California. According to court documents, the assailants ziptied the victim, tortured him and drove him to a patch of desert where they believed that he had buried large sums of money.

When the kidnappers couldn't find it, they burned him with a blowtorch, cut off his penis, and doused him with bleach before dumping him along the roadside. And yes, there's Travis Mason, as well, from Colorado.

Casing the next target is about finding the softest target, and I know this. Four of my years in policing I spent interviewing hundreds of career criminals in our division of corrections in the state of Maryland, and I know what they look for.

They look for that soft target, and the current conditions of this industry have created many soft targets. We, the police, teach target hardening when we conduct security assessments for businesses. Our advice to them is not to have large amounts of cash on hand, to make use of credit and debit card services, avoid routine trips to the bank, and to make use of armored car services.

This valuable crime prevention 101 advice is literally useless to many marijuana business owners, making them attractive, soft targets.

What I testify to here today is rooted in experience and research. Any police officer who has worked the street or investigated enough robberies will testify to the same regarding any businesses forced to handle large amounts of cash.

As I conclude, members of the Committee, it is up to you and others members of Congress to act upon this legislation, establishing access to banking for legitimate marijuana businesses. The safety of thousands of employees, business owners, security personnel, and police officers, and community members is in your hands.

On behalf of myself and the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, I thank you for this opportunity and obviously we support the Safe Banking Act. Thank you.

DEAN BECKER: Thank you, boss man Neill. It has been my postulation that those who believe in drug war quite obviously do not believe in public safety.

And I close out the show once again with the thought that because of prohibition you do not know what's in that bag. Please, be careful.

Please visit our website. We have more than 7,000 radio programs which can educate you on the full, unvarnished truth of this drug war, so you can set to work in helping to bring it to an end. Please, visit DrugTruth.net.