The legalization of cannabis was never going to be easy after so many years of prohibition, and the FBI just announced that they’re now actively seeking tips to curtail what they fear could become a widespread public corruption scandal.
Last week the FBI spoke about cannabis during a podcast. While North America gets to grips with cannabis legalization in all its glory, reversing the tide of prohibition was always expected to pose a challenge. FBI Public Affairs Specialist Mollie Halpern set the stage during the podcast, explaining to the public that they’re worried about potential corruption by public officials.
“States require licenses to grow and sell the drug—opening the possibility for public officials to become susceptible to bribes in exchange for those licenses,” Halpern said. “The corruption is more prevalent in western states where the licensing is decentralized—meaning the level of corruption can span from the highest to the lowest level of public officials.”
According to many, the FBI is not alone in their concerns. Likely unsurprising to most, cannabis is so used to being a “black market drug” that it’s proving to be difficult in some areas to implement its legalization. For the time being, the FBI podcast is shrouded in some mystery. Some people are questioning whether it’s a strategic, preemptive move by the Bureau, or whether they already have active cases of public corruption being investigated. For now, all the FBI are saying is that “states should expect the corruption problem to increase,” leaving the public to draw their own conclusions.
California was in the spotlight earlier this year when the LA Times ran a piece alleging several incidents of public corruption surrounding cannabis. At the time, one mayor was even accused of taking bribes to expedite matters for bigwigs in the cannabis industry. Supervisory Special Agent Regino Chavez, who also spoke in the same podcast added, “We’ve seen in some states the price go as high as $500,000 for a license to sell marijuana. So, we see people willing to pay large amounts of money to get into the industry.”
At the same time, the Executive Director of NORML (The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), said that transparent and fair licensing within the industry is a must. “As awkward as it feels to sort of side with the FBI, it is imperative that states ensure the licensing for cannabis businesses is an open and fair process,” said Erik Altieri.
“NORML believes that we need to lower barriers to entry in the emerging legal marijuana market so it allows for small consumer-oriented businesses to thrive and provides support for equity programs that would let those who were most targeted by, and suffered under, our decades-long failed war on marijuana to benefit from its now legal status.”
Another significant player in the cannabis industry, Morgan Fox from the National Cannabis Industry Association, said that the only way to arbitrate against corruption is to get rid of licensing caps and to essentially “lower the bar.”
“An easy way to avoid corruption becoming an issue is to get rid of arbitrary license caps and lower the barriers of entry for the industry,” Fox said. “Not only would this make it easier for small businesses and people from marginalized communities to enter the industry, but it stops licenses from being treated as limited commodities that are so valuable that people may be willing to obtain them through unethical means.”