Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), a high-profile supporter of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, has been caught on video with $70,000 in drug money. The footage, provided exclusively to The Huffington Post, also captures Rep. Earl Blumenauer, another Oregon Democrat, as well as a prominent local businessman, Tyson Haworth.
The video, however, was not a sting operation run by the Drug Enforcement Administration or FBI. Instead, it’s an effort to highlight a gaping and dangerous hole in national cannabis policy, if such a thing even exists.
Under federal law, marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning it is deemed to be highly dangerous with zero medical benefit. Even in states that have legalized cannabis, such as Oregon, possessing it remains a federal crime, as is possessing any revenue derived from dealings related to it.
That puts businesspeople like Tyson Haworth, an owner of Oregon’s Finest and sofresh farms, in tricky territory on a number of fronts. The most glaring danger, highlighted by the video, is that $70,000 in cash sitting on the table in front of Merkley, Haworth and Blumenauer. It’s money that Haworth owes in local taxes, but he can’t cut a check, because banks can’t legally work with drug dealers. Banks tend to take that law seriously when rejecting mom-and-pop pot shops, but somehow manage to look the other way for Mexican drug cartels that funnel billions through those same banks.
That unequal treatment means many weed shops are cash-only businesses, which raises extreme security risks for staff and owners. In one of the more sadistic policy gestures of the past few years, the DEA has even pressured security companies not to protect the workers made vulnerable by the twisted federal policy.
Merkley is working to untwist that law, legislatively through the Senate, and by helping to produce videos that expose the absurdity of current federal policy. In the process, he probably committed a handful of felonies, but that’s kind of the point.
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