Legal News of the Week: Regulators Allow Banks to Accept Marijuana Deposits, North Carolina Law is Over Turned, and Scalia makes a Scene

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Feb 20, 2014

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The relationship between banks and legal marijuana dispensaries was a center of attention this week, as federal regulators attempted to ease tension by allowing marijuana transactions to go unhindered.  Elsewhere, North Carolina has yet another anti-abortion policy overturned by federal court, and Supreme Court Justice Scalia raises the ire of a Chicago area crowd.

Federal Regulators Allow Banks to Accept Deposits from Marijuana Sellers

As the legalized marijuana industry in Colorado continues to grow, the Treasury Department and the Justice Department issued a statement assuring it will allow transactions with the legal marijuana industry that is intended to alleviate concerns banks have when working with marijuana dispensaries.  With the drug still illegal under federal law, members of the banking industry have expressed concern about extending loans to, and accepting deposits from, businesses that legally sell marijuana in Colorado.  The Justice Department is able to prosecute banks that receive proceeds from services provided to illicit activity, and the conflicting federal and state laws have given financial institutions reason for hesitancy.

The federal government’s announcement is an effort to put banks at ease, and to enable normal business transactions between financial institutions and legal marijuana dispensaries.  Proponents of legalized marijuana expressed hope that the guidelines will allow the industry to become more accepted.  Currently, dispensaries are forced to keeping large quantities of cash because banks do not accept deposits, and clarity in the federal government’s position could lead to a shift towards typical business practices.  Response from the banking industry indicated some concerns linger, primarily because marijuana is still illegal under federal law and a policy shift could find banks the target of Department of Justice investigations despite the government’s recent approach to the industry.

Ultimately, the conflict between federal and state legal positions may prove unsustainable to the legalized marijuana industry, but for now federal regulators hope that by providing banks with assurances of non-prosecution, commerce between financial institutions and marijuana dispensaries will be possible. 

Choose Life License Plates are Unconstitutional

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 4th circuit has declared a North Carolina law authorizing license plates sporting the anti-abortion phrase “Choose Life” to be unconstitutional.  In a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that North Carolina’s law did not pass constitutional mustard because the state did not authorize a license plate promoting an alternative point of view.

The First Amendment right of Free Speech prevents the government from allowing some forms of speech, but prohibiting others, which North Carolina did by only allowing Choose Life plates.  North Carolina argued that promoting Choose Life plates was an example of government speech, which would make the license plate permissible because governments are generally permitted to support particular political opinions.  However, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals felt that the law instead dealt with private speech, which means that North Carolina was not the speaker, but instead was the authority of what individuals within the state could, and could not, say.

North Carolina has had three anti-abortion laws overturned recently – one that defunded Planned Parenthood, one that required doctors to display ultrasound images hours before an abortion, and this recent one that allowed Choose Life plates.  Whether or not the state appeals this ruling remains to be seen, but for now North Carolina’s support of Choose Life plates at the expense of legal alternatives is unconstitutional.

Supreme Court Justice Disses Chicago Pizza

Finally, the Supreme Court made some news this week when the outspoken conservative voice of the Court, Justice Antonin Scalia, ended a speech at the Union League Club of Chicago by declaring that the city’s famed deep-dish pizza should not be considered pizza at all.  In a speech that criticized the current state of education in America that has left students ignorant of the ideals promoted by the Country’s founding fathers, Scalia lamented that a lack of proper legal education has resulted in attorneys and judges straying from the Constitution’s original intentions.

Finalizing his speech, Scalia ended with a bit of humor to play with the emotions of his audience.  Saying that he liked both New York style pizza and Chicago style, the fiery Justice concluded that deep-dish “should not be considered pizza,” even though it is tasty.  The response was predictably negative, something Scalia has grown well accustomed to over the years.   

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