State lawmakers’ group endorses rescheduling of cannabis with eye on banking

An independent national organization that supports state legislatures has again voiced its support for federal rescheduling of cannabis.

The bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) passed a resolution at its annual meeting this week asking the federal government to change its classification of cannabis in the Controlled Substances Act.

Currently, marijuana is listed in Schedule I, which includes what are considered the most dangerous drugs that have “no accepted medical use, a high potential for abuse and potentially severe psychological or physical dependence,” alongside heroin and LSD.

The NCSL resolution calls for moving cannabis to Schedule III, “drugs with moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.” This would put it in the company of Tylenol with codeine and steroids.

The NCSL is made up of state legislators from across the country, and has been hosting events in Boston this week as part of its annual meeting. Resolutions must be supported by a majority of participating legislators in each of 75 percent of the states represented at the conference’s general business meeting.

The Associated Press reported that Oregon lawmakers, including Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli and Democratic Reps. Phil Barnhart and Julie Fahey, were at the forefront of the effort.

This is the third year that the NCSL has expressed support for states to have the right to legalize cannabis. An approved version of the resolution last year called for rescheduling marijuana to a lower schedule. In 2015, the conference approved a resolution that stated “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 current resolution, passed Monday, is part of a set of policy directives based on “communications, financial services and interstate commerce.” It was crafted with language that specifically addresses a pressing concern for legal cannabis businesses in every state: their inability to use banks due to federal banking regulations based on marijuana’s placement in Schedule I. The resolution included the following:

“WHEREAS, the federal Bank Secrecy Act and its implementing regulations impose substantial administrative and operational burdens, compliance risk and regulatory risk that serve as a barrier to banks and credit unions providing banking services to businesses and individuals involved in the cannabis industry…

BE IT RESOLVED, The National Conference of State Legislatures believes that 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; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the National Conference of State Legislatures acknowledges that each of its members will have differing and sometimes conflicting views of cannabis and how to regulate it, but in allowing each state to craft its own regulations we may increase transparency, public safety, and economic development where it is wanted.

The resolution received the support of pro-legalization organization Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which lobbies for marijuana law reform in state legislatures across the country.

“State legislators and the vast majority of voters agree that marijuana policy should be left to the states,” said Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for MPP.

“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,” O’Keefe continued. “Even more so, states should not have to worry about the federal government interfering with their marijuana policy choices.”

Tom Angell of MassRoots reported that the NCSL postponed a vote on an additional resolution that would say the group believes “there is ample evidence that states that have medical cannabis programs have accomplished a significant reduction in the number of opioid related deaths.” That measure would have asked federal agencies to “work closely with state and local officials, healthcare providers and industry representatives in developing programs that use medical cannabis to combat the opioid crisis and reduce preventable deaths.”

The NCSL resolution joins other efforts this year focused on changing the federal classification of cannabis.

In April, two Florida congressmen, Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz and Democratic Rep. Darren Soto, introduced legislation that would implement the same solution, transferring marijuana to Schedule III in order to facilitate research on the benefits and risks of cannabis use.

Last week, Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) put forward legislation to completely deschedule cannabis — in other words, remove it from the CSA.

Last month, a federal lawsuit was brought against Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the DEA, saying marijuana’s Schedule I status is unconstitutional.

The American Legion has called on the Trump administration to remove cannabis from Schedule I to help veterans with PTSD who benefit from medical marijuana.

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