First They Came for WikiLeaks … Then They Came for Pot Dispensaries … Then Online Sharing

Remember when Visa and PayPal cut off services to WikiLeaks as a result of what was clearly Administration pressure? The Administration never explicitly revealed it had pressured the financial services companies to cut off WikiLeaks. It never offered any due process. Just–poof! WikiLeaks was no longer welcome to use a public service other corporate-people were able to.

And almost no one blinked at that abuse of due process.

Then Visa and MasterCard cut off pot dispensaries in California.

Your credit is no longer any good at California medical marijuana dispensaries, whose accounts with credit card processors have been canceled, thanks to pressure from the federal government.
Merchant services providers — the intermediaries between retailers and credit card companies who process customers’ payments — began informing their medical marijuana dealing clients that cannabis credit card transactions would not be processed after July 1, according to Stephen DeAngelo, Executive Director of Oakland’s Harborside Health Center.
No government agency is taking credit for making marijuana a cash-only business. But the “factual pattern” is as follows, DeAngelo said: Officials from the Treasury Department flexed on credit card companies, who then informed merchant services providers that they’d be “dropped from Visa and MasterCard forever” unless they stopped processing medical marijuana payments.

And PayPal has imposed new terms of services on file-sharing sites that will allow it to monitor sites for content.

According to TorrentFreak, PayPal has recently changed its terms of service, making requirements for file-sharing and newsgroup services far tighter than before.

The payment service, owned by eBay, now requires that “merchants must prohibit users from uploading files involving illegal content and indicate that users involved in such file transfers will be permanently removed from their service,” and that “merchants must provide PayPal with free access to their service, so PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy department can monitor the content.”

The pot dispensary move is really heartless: as the article points out, it means customers have to walk around with wads of cash. And since a lot of medical marijuana customers are on disability, it means poor people can’t afford themselves the flexibility offered by credit cards.

And in addition to the specific injustice of undermining otherwise legal businesses, there’s the general issue. As it does with international financial exchange, so the Government is now doing with corporate entities in the US, picking and choosing which ones will have access to modern financial services and which won’t.

It’s an arbitrary exercise of power against entities the government can’t or won’t make a legal, due process entailing case against.

Maybe you’ll arbitrarily lose your credit card privileges next!

22 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    Why I won’t sign up for PayPal: it wants access to my</em bank account, and doesn't give ma any information on who else they’re passing information to. (They want to be a bank when it’s advantageous to them, but not when it’s advantageous to the users; then they’re just the middleman.)

  2. bell says:

    i haven’t been on this site for a long while.. this story reminds me of the insurance companies not giving insurance to ships carrying oil from iran.. same deal really.. iran has done nothing wrong, but the folks who transport the oil are being told just who they can or can’t do business with.. maybe you have covered this in another article and i apologize if you did and i missed it. i just see a parallel here.. getting visa or paypal to do your dirty work is really interesting especially when one thinks of how low the banking industry has gone since 2008 and how little they care about ethics of anything other then making money any way they can, including illegally.. they get a green light from the usa admin for that, so i guess it really depends who is breaking the law, and who is above the law.. interesting..

  3. shekissesfrogs says:

    Being a member of the Sinaloa cartel club has it’s privileges.
    I wonder who Hashim Thaci or Gulnara Karimova banks with…

  4. nomolos says:

    I would imagine that reproductive services will be next on the gummint hit list (Viagra will be an exception no doubt).

    Then what, will Organic food be a “cash only” business with Monsanto foods being allowed to be purchased with credit/debit cards?

  5. emptywheel says:

    @bell: I’ve covered it some (mostly in the uneven treatment of banks for violating sanctions–did you know a malt company got busted yesterday for sending Cuba millions of dollars of beer supplies?). But I originally planned to link to this post–talking about how the BRICs are likely to form their own finance systems bc of Iranian sanctions–when I first decided to write this:

    Now, however, “the BRICS must urgently organize to build institutions of mutual economic benefit”; the newest round of Iran-related sanctions from the United States “highlights the urgency of the issue.” The BRICS are “hostage to Western sanctions because the conduits of international finance, trade and transportation use for crude oil trade are controlled by the West. The entire pricing framework is U.S. dollar based. The New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) and London’s International Commodities Exchange (ICE) conduct the largest trade for crude oil futures contracts…There is SWIFT, the global code for electronic banking transactions. In March, SWIFT banned Iran’s banks from conducting business, leaving oil importers like India lurching for payment mechanisms. Ditto with transportation [and insurance] options.”

    Deo and Mathur note that “the BRICS are finding creative ways to pay Iran” and to provide insurance coverage for shipments of Iranian crude. But rising powers nonetheless face a daunting structural challenge. Deo and Mathur warn that “the sanctions are an issue for energy exporters like Brazil and Russia too. The Western-dominated system that is strangling Iran, can do the same to others should their geopolitics be deemed inconvenient. Iran today, could be Russia or Brazil tomorrow.”

    I do think the Iran sanctions may well be a line in the sane for some of these countries, not just because oil is so central, but because Saudi oil is such a cornerstone of US hegemony.

    Also, there’s increasing evidence that the US is using SWIFT to track things beyond terrorism–or beyond what the rest of the world would agree is terrorism.

  6. emptywheel says:

    @nomolos: I hadn’t thought about reproductive care, but I agree, it’s likely, particularly if the GOP gets the Senate.

    And farmer’s markets, and local stores, and so on.

  7. Phil Perspective says:

    Also, there’s increasing evidence that the US is using SWIFT to track things beyond terrorism–or beyond what the rest of the world would agree is terrorism.

    There sure have been a lot of Claude Rains moments lately, haven’t there?

  8. lefty665 says:

    It is the other shoe of Obama’s assertion that the commerce clause allowed forced purchase of insurance from the private sector. Once you grant the authority, compulsion, prohibition or permitted mediums of exchange (if any) are just an array of policy choices and procedural alternatives (Think trading women’s reproductive care rights in D.C. to Bart Stupak in exchange for nothing).

    OTOH, pushing medicinal pot back into a cash and carry business means they’ve lost the ability to target the drones using the addresses from credit card transactions.

    New procedure when scoring: Start by clipping the phone on the dog’s collar. That way the watchers will have something interesting, like licking genitals, barking, chasing squirrels and sniffing butts, to look at, listen to and geo-locate. Wouldn’t want our signature profilers to be bored.

  9. lefty665 says:

    @emptywheel: “the Iran sanctions may well be a line in the sane for some of these countries”

    I like it, rational thoughts wearing neuronal paths of sanity across the brains of nations. Can we get some of that here at home, or is it on DHS’s no fly list?

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    @emptywheel: Oh, the threat from leftist alcoholic suds is insidious. Not to mention, Cuban beer would outsell most of what the oligopolists sell as “beer” here. The price we pay for a few votes in Florida is phenomenal. It’s also the price the right imposes on American society for its privilege in continuing to vilify any western hemisphere government to the left of the Great Khan. All part of the Washington “consensus”.

  11. bell says:

    emptywheel – thanks for sharing what you did here. thanks for all the work you do. usa hypocrisy is amazing.. living here in canada, we have a political class that is working hard to emulate the politicians south of the border. so much seems to be built up around a corrupted banking system in collusion with a politician system that is quite happy to comply. democracy and freedom are the least of any of their concerns, which is why i mention hypocrisy.

    regarding the same approach could be taken towards brasil or russia – i recall recently reading the rationale russia offered for not supporting intervention in syria.. of course if you can intervene in syria, it is only a matter of time and you will be intervening in russia too… how would obama and clinton like it if some foreign country wanted to intervene to bring a less hypocritical reality down to earth in the usa? we will defend our borders, lol… hard to imagine throwing more money in the same direction you have already been throwing it – more money for the military industrial complex.. woowho, lol..

  12. FenderBender says:

    “It never offered any due process. Just–poof! WikiLeaks was no longer welcome to use a public service other corporate-people were able to.”

    Paypal and Visa are NOT public services. These are private entities and as such, enjoy the freedoms of our system of free enterprise.

    A private entity has the right to say “what you’re doing could be shady and might be illegal. We don’t want to profit from it, we want no part of it and we don’t want to do business with you.”

    Since PayPal and Visa are private entities due process is not required, just like if you were in my restaurant snorting lines on the table or soliciting hookers. As a business owner I would have every right to refuse service to you and remove you from my property.

    I don’t necessarily agree with our country’s drug laws and there is a lot about our government that is broken and very, very wrong. However, private businesses have every right under the law to refuse to stick their necks out by enabling and profiting from activities which are illegal, and rightly so.

  13. additionally and also says:

    WikiLeaks gets court victory in fight against Visa

    WikiLeaks declared victory Thursday in the first round of its campaign against the financial blockade imposed by Visa and MasterCard after an Icelandic court ordered their local partner to resume processing credit card donations to the secret-spilling site.

    Visa and MasterCard were among half a dozen major US financial firms to pull the plug on WikiLeaks following its decision to begin publishing about 250,000 State Department cables in late 2010.

    WikiLeaks says that the ensuing blockade has led to a 95% fall in revenue, something which founder Julian Assange says has forced him to focus on fundraising at the expense of his site’s publication work.

    The judgment, handed down by Reykjavik District Court, is “a very important milestone in our campaign,” WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said. Lawsuits remain active in Denmark and in Belgium, he said, but the Icelandic win was “a small but very important step in fighting back against these powerful banks.”–finance.html?_esi=1

  14. bell says:


    that is true what you say, however when the us government directs visa on who they can or can’t do business with, without any basis in law – it is different. that is what has happened here, which is not the same as what you outline and it’s an important distinction that ought to concern any thinking person.

    ad and also on – thanks for that update..

  15. FenderBender says:


    I’ve read that echoed about, but have yet to see a single reliable citation.

    The above linked Wired article refers to “U.S. pressure against WikiLeaks” but says nothing about any interaction with PayPal.

    The Forbes article states: “[Visa] quickly shut down that new line of payment, pressuring Valitor to end its relationship with DataCell and WikiLeaks”. Nothing about the US Government in the entire article.

    Now while it’s possible that there was government pressure against these companies, it isn’t responsible to echo these assertions without a reliable source. Just because you read something on a blog doesn’t make it true.

    Regarding the pot dispensaries: set aside for a moment that the source of the article is the “Executive Director of Oakland’s Harborside Health Center” which sounds to me like a fancy title for ‘a guy who sells pot’ and also set aside the fact that the sale of marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Under state laws where its sale permitted for medical use, it is illegal for any entity to profit from its sale (at least it is in my state). By processing payments, the credit card companies are not only violating federal law by helping to facilitate the illegal sale, they are also violating state and local laws which prohibit collecting profits. After all, the credit card companies collect a transaction fee, and it’s not pocket change we’re talking about here.

    If the government is attempting to persuade companies who are breaking the law to stop doing it, they just might be doing their jobs for a change.

  16. bell says:


    “If the government is attempting to persuade companies who are breaking the law to stop doing it, they just might be doing their jobs for a change.”

    more propaganda by the sounds of it fender bender… i realize you want to absolve the gov’t of any role in stopping payments to wikileaks thru visa,mastercard and etc, while talking here of companies breaking the law… the dishonesty in framing this story this way is not lost on people who have actually followed this story.. the criminal actions are the usa gov’t and military role in fallejuh which wikileaks highlighted. if you are really concerned about criminal actions of companies breaking the law – start with the usa gov’t in iraq…

  17. FenderBender says:

    @bell: “the dishonesty in framing this story this way is not lost on people who have actually followed this story.”

    I’ve followed the story plenty, bell and I still haven’t seen a reliable source, so go ahead and change the subject since you apparently have nothing to back up your assertions.


  18. bell says:

    the usa gov’t can and does act like the mafia.. i suppose you would like written examples in a complying corporate run media to back this up too? lol..

    “WikiLeaks has published the biggest leaks in journalistic history. This has triggered aggressive retaliation from powerful groups. Since 7th December 2010 an arbitrary and unlawful financial blockade has been imposed by Bank of America, VISA, MasterCard, PayPal and Western Union. The attack has destroyed 95% of our revenue. The blockade came into force within ten days of the launch of Cablegate as part of a concerted US-based, political attack that included vitriol by senior right wing politicians, including assassination calls against WikiLeaks staff. The blockade is outside of any accountable, public process. It is without democratic oversight or transparency. The US government itself found that there were no lawful grounds to add WikiLeaks to a US financial blockade. But the blockade of WikiLeaks by politicized US finance companies continues regardless.”

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