A new report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) identifies multiple problems caused by conflicting federal and state marijuana laws.
Those issues include a lack of access to financial services for state-legal cannabis businesses and challenges accessing marijuana for research purposes, CRS said.
The Schedule I status of marijuana means that the substance is strictly regulated by federal authorities,” the report, published last week, states. “Yet, over the last several decades, most states and territories have deviated from across-the-board prohibition of marijuana, and now have laws and policies allowing for some cultivation, sale, distribution, and possession of marijuana.”
CRS looked at four key areas where the federal-state conflict has created policy complications.
First it said universities might be disinclined to take on cannabis study initiatives out of fear of losing federal funds. Colleges receiving federal dollars are statutorily obliged to proactively discourage drug use, and so they also run a risk if they permit students to consume medical cannabis as authorized by the state.
General research is also hampered by federal prohibition, CRS said, as the requirements to obtain cannabis for studies is onerous. What’s more, scientists face difficulties accessing a “different strain, potency, or quality of marijuana for their research than what is lawfully available” at the only federally authorized cannabis manufacturing facility at the University of Mississippi.
A bipartisan bill designed to streamline the process of cultivating research-grade marijuana and obtaining it for studies was approved by a House committee earlier this month. It would also allow researchers to get cannabis from state-legal dispensaries rather than rely exclusively on the government’s marijuana.
The CRS report also talks about how, despite Treasury Department guidance for banks on the rules for servicing marijuana businesses, “many financial institutions remain reluctant to openly enter into relationships with state-authorized marijuana businesses due to the Schedule I status of marijuana.”
Finally, CRS said people in general face the threat of prosecution under federal law for cannabis-related activity, regardless of their states’ policies. That gives “rise to a range of other issues including eligibility for student financial aid, housing and food assistance, gun ownership, visas, and employment,” the report says.
The Capitol Hill research office also discussed how the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has consistently refused to change the scheduling status of marijuana and rejected requests to loosen restrictions. Recently, seven members of Congress and a coalition of advocacy groups urged the Supreme Court to take up a lawsuit challenging DEA’s scheduling decision with respect to cannabis.
Both DEA and Congress have the authority to enact a scheduling change, but the legislative route would enable lawmakers to circumvent certain procedural requirements that an administrative reform process have to follow.
“If marijuana remains a controlled substance under the CSA under any schedule, that would maintain the existing conflict between the federal government and states that have legalized recreational marijuana, though moving marijuana to a less restrictive schedule could help mitigate conflicts between federal law and state medical marijuana laws,” CRS said.
The report notes that if Congress were to deschedule cannabis, “it could seek to regulate and tax commercial marijuana activities.”
That’s one of the objectives of a bill that was expected to receive a House floor vote next week but has since been delayed until later this fall. The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act would end cannabis prohibition and contains a series of social equity provisions.