State Legislators Push Feds To Deschedule Marijuana

By Tom Angell | August 07, 2017

An organization that represents state lawmakers from across the U.S. is calling on the federal government to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.

“The Controlled Substances Act should be amended to remove cannabis from scheduling thus enabling financial institutions the ability to provide banking services to cannabis related businesses,” reads a resolution adopted Monday by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

The measure’s whereas clauses highlight roadblocks that marijuana’s current federal status causes for cannabis businesses’ access to basic financial services.

“Without banking options, cannabis related businesses are forced to operate exclusively in cash,” it says. “A large and growing cash-only industry attracts criminal activity and creates substantial public safety risks…and a cash-only industry reduces transparency in accounting and makes it difficult for the state to implement an effective regulatory regime that ensures compliance.”

Last year, NCSL passed a similar resolution that urged the removal of marijuana from Schedule I. By broadening the call to now include a complete removal of cannabis from the entire scheduling system, the state lawmakers are in line with a major provision of a new federal bill introduced last week by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).

“Americans across the nation have weighed in on this issue. We are asking the federal government to remove cannabis from scheduling so that we can forge ahead with life-changing cannabis medical research,” Oregon Sen. Ted Ferrioli (R), who worked for the resolution’s passage, said in a press release. “Flawed federal cannabis policy is perpetuating the mentality of Prohibition, enabling foreign and domestic gangster cartels and wasting precious public safety resources.”

Legislators at the NCSL convention also considered –but did not pass — a separate resolution that said the organization “believes that medical cannabis can be an effective tool in combating the national opioid crisis and urges the federal government to grant states the authority to create their own medical cannabis polices.”

Calling on the federal government to “make medical cannabis policy a national priority to expand access to affordable medicine,” the measure points out that “there is ample evidence that states that have medical cannabis programs have accomplished a significant reduction in the number of opioid related deaths with resulting fewer hospitalizations related to opioid related deaths in states that have passed medical cannabis programs.”

But the organization’s Health and Human Services Committee opted on Sunday to defer a vote on that measure until a separate event later this year.

In 2015, the group adopted a resolution urging that “federal laws, including the Controlled Substances Act, should be amended to explicitly allow states to set their own marijuana and hemp policies without federal interference.”

The passage of the new resolution calling for marijuana to be descheduled comes amid growing concern and uncertainty about the Trump administration’s position on state marijuana laws.

While Trump repeatedly pledged to respect state marijuana laws during the campaign, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a longtime vocal opponent of legalization.

Sessions received recommendations on marijuana enforcement policy and other criminal justice issues from a Justice Department late last month, but did not release them publicly. On Friday, the Associated Press reported that the task force’s report, which it obtained, provided the attorney general with no ammunition to support a cannabis crackdown, instead suggesting that he continue to evaluate whether to keep in place an Obama-era memo that generally lets states set their own laws without federal interference.

In a related development, news broke last week that Sesssions sent letters to the governors of a number of states with legalization, expressing concern with the implementation of those policies. And, federal agency representatives recently held secret meetings about marijuana policy with state and local officials in Colorado.

“State legislators and the vast majority of voters agree that marijuana policy should be left to the states,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release. “Legitimate, taxpaying marijuana businesses should not have to face the difficulties of operating on a cash-only basis. Allowing banks to offer them financial services will be good for the industry and benefit public safety. Even more so, states should not have to worry about the federal government interfering with their marijuana policy choices.”

At the NCSL summit being held this week in Boston, Massachusetts, lawmakers were able to attend three separate panels about marijuana policy:

Financial Services for Marijuana

Summary: Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia now allow recreational marijuana. More than half the states, the District of Columbia and Guam allow medical marijuana. Hear about efforts to help the industry move beyond the cash-only model to find effective financial services.
Moderator: Senator Brian J. Feldman, Maryland
Panelist: Michael Correia, National Cannabis Industry Association, Washington, D.C.
Panelist: Jeffrey Gerard, Greylock Federal Credit Union, Massachusetts
Panelist: Brenda Wells, College of Business, East Carolina University, North Carolina

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Marijuana Federalism

Summary: While the Trump administration mulls its approach to state-regulated, recreational marijuana, most agree that there is untenable conflict between the federal government and the growing number of states that have legalized marijuana use. Learn about the intergovernmental legal issues in play and what is at stake for states’ rights.
Moderator: Senator Gerald Malloy, South Carolina
Speaker: Representative Roger E. Goodman, Washington
Speaker: John Hudak, Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C.
Speaker: Robert Mikos, Vanderbilt Law School, Tennessee

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Cannabis Crosses the Country

Summary: Lawmakers from states that recently legalized recreational marijuana at the ballot box have plenty to learn from the pioneering states when it comes to taxation, product regulation and other issues. But no one is certain how all this may change with the Trump administration. Explore the complexity and uncertainty of state cannabis laws.  (Note:  This is a Live Streaming Session.)
Moderator: Karmen Hanson, NCSL
Panelist: Lewis Koski, Freedman & Koski Inc., Colorado
Panelist: Representative Daniel Pabon, Colorado
Panelist: Representative Teresa S. Pierce, Maine
Panelist: Jordan Wellington, Vicente Sederberg, Colorado
The organization also published a blog post on the cannabis industry’s banking access problems on Monday and has a “deep dive” section of its website with information on a broader array of marijuana issues.
Tom Angell

Tom Angell is a senior political correspondent for MassRoots. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit Marijuana Majority and is editor of the daily Marijuana Moment newsletter.

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