Marijuana: Wanda James on closure of edibles business, MMJ banking, Obama and more
Simply Pure, one of the local medical marijuana industry's most prominent edibles companies, has suspended operations -- because, says co-owner Wanda James, the inability to get banking services makes doing business untenable at this time. James has plenty to say about this situation, and she also shares her thoughts about President Barack Obama, whose election she worked for in 2008. But not this year.
"You can't run a business without a bank account, but the only way to get a bank account now is to lie," James says. "And that just doesn't make sense to me. We are not criminals. So why should we have to lie about a business that's registered with the Secretary of State?"
James and her husband, Scott Durrah, are prominent restaurateurs, with a new enterprise, Jezebel's, set to open soon in the original location of the Squeaky Bean, at 3301 Tejon Street, next to Rosa Linda's Mexican Cafe. But she also became a prominent part of the medical marijuana scene via Apothecary of Colorado and Simply Pure. Indeed, when The Daily Show came to Denver in 2010 to put together a satirical piece on the business, James was prominently featured; at one point, correspondent Jason Jones licked her hand. See the video below.
In addition, as we noted in this previous profile, James, a former member of the Navy whose duties during her years in the service included tracking submarines, served as Representative Jared Polis's first campaign manager, and she also ran the 2006 congressional race in Colorado Springs for Lieutenant Colonel Jay Fawcett. Additionally, she and Durrah served on the National Finance Committee for Obama.
Since Obama's 2008 election, however, James has been disappointed in his administration's approach to medical marijuana -- not just the crackdown on dispensaries near schools overseen by U.S. Attorney John Walsh, but also banking regulations that have made financial institutions dump MMJ operations because cannabis remains illegal at the federal level.
To James, the result is "hypocrisy of gargantuan levels. We have a black man in the White House who I respect a lot, and he does most of the things I want to see from a politician. He's failed on some things I'd like to see fixed, like the Patriot Act. But in 2008, I not only supported him, I went on Fox TV fighting for him. I raised a tremendous amount of money and gave a tremendous amount of money personally. And this time, I'm not giving any money to anyone."
Why not? She replies as if addressing the president: "I fought to get you elected, and when my business needed you, you turned your back on me."
She feels much the same about Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who last month released a statement opposing Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, that stuck in her craw.
"I've raised money for him, too," James notes. "And for him to say, 'I don't want Colorado known for marijuana because it's not good for kids....' What about the 100,000 patients, or the 6,000 people who have jobs in this industry? I'm tired of this kind of hypocrisy, especially from a man who brewed beer for a living -- and from a black man we know smoked pot. The only difference between [Obama] and the black and brown boys who've been arrested for smoking marijuana is that he didn't get caught. That's hypocrisy, too, and I don't care if you're a Democrat or a Republican: I'm calling you on it."
Given her passion on this subject, James doesn't want to be guilty of hypocrisy herself. Yet that was the position she was in regarding banking, she believes.
"We'd been with our bank for numerous years for all of our businesses," she points out. "But then we got a letter stating that they were closing our account on July 17. We went back and forth with all the different things happening, but in the end, we realized the only way to get a bank account now is to lie. Just about everybody has one, but the only way they can do it is to put it under a different business category, like 'wellness center' or 'massage center' or whatever. And I just couldn't do that.
"To me, this is a political statement. As an industry, we employ thousands of people and bring the state millions in taxes and fees. We are a legal business. So why do I have to lie to have a bank account? You can't even pay your taxes without one. Taxes are supposed to be paid electronically through your bank account...."
Despite her frustration, though, James hasn't opted out of the medical marijuana business for good. "We're working right now with Jared Polis, Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter. All of them have signed on to the banking bill in Congress. Right now, the government and the banks are operating under a 1980s law that was designed to stop cocaine dealers from having bank accounts, and to the best of my knowledge, Scarface isn't on the Secretary of State's website. We have a business here, so it shouldn't fall under that law."
She's also a big supporter of Amendment 64, and if the measure is approved by voters, she's hoping banking reform will take place in its wake.
"Last cycle, I believe something like 2.4 million people voted," she says. "If and when Amendment 64 passes, that will mean at least 1.2 million people will have voted for it, and that's a whole lot of people for every elected official to face. Even [Colorado Attorney General and marijuana opponent] John Suthers wouldn't be able to come back and say people were confused about what they were voting for. It makes every politician realize his job's at stake if they don't get with the will of the people. And that will put a lot of pressure on the powers that be, and on Wells Fargo and Chase and everybody else.
"We'll be able to say, 'There are over a million people who feel pretty strongly about this business.' So while Amendment 64 definitely does some things to ease arrests and other things, the bigger piece is the message it sends politically."
The measure's enactment would also mean a business rebirth for James. "If 64 passes," she says, "we'll bring back Simply Pure as the first legal retail center -- as long as we're allowed banking and investors.
"I'm fighting with everything I've got," she adds. "At this point, the government has just released a crazy activist. They can't arrest me for anything now, because I'm in full compliance with federal law. So the gloves are off."
Here's the 2010 Daily Show segment.
More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana and PTSD: Dispensary owner Wanda James reaches out to vets."
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