A group representing thousands of lawmakers from around the U.S. is calling on the federal government to end marijuana prohibition so that states can enact their own cannabis policies without intervention.
“The federal government should respect state decisions to regulate cannabis, including hemp in non-FDA approved cannabis products,” reads one of two new policy directives adopted on Wednesday by the National Conference of State Legislatures. “NCSL believes that federal laws, including the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), should be amended to explicitly allow states to set their own cannabis policies without federal interference and urges the administration not to undermine state cannabis policies.”
“NCSL maintains that the administration should prioritize its enforcement actions against criminal enterprises engaged in cannabis production and sale, and not against citizens who are compliant with state cannabis laws. Furthermore, NCSL urges Congress to prohibit the administration from using federal funds to enforce the CSA in a manner inconsistent with these enforcement priorities.”
The other directive, which focuses on banking access for marijuana businesses, says that federal prohibition forces growers, processors and retailers to operate on a cash-only basis, which “attracts criminal activity and creates substantial public safety risks.”
“NCSL acknowledges that a cash-only industry reduces transparency in accounting and makes it difficult for states to implement an effective regulatory regime that ensures compliance.”
Letting state-legal cannabis businesses use banks will provide access to “capital, security, efficiency, and record keeping,” the state lawmakers say.
Calling existing Treasury Department guidance enacted during the Obama administration “insufficient,” the group says that “current federal regulations force financial institutions to incur inordinate risk, should they decide to provide banking services to licensed cannabis businesses.”
Very pleased that Oregon-led directive to push Congress to remove #cannabis from DEA schedule just passed @NCSL unanimously. With cannabis legal in >30 states & territories, this action must happen soon so legitimate businesses have access to financial services.
— Sen. Steiner Hayward (@ESHforOregon) August 1, 2018
“Thirty states, the District of Columbia and Guam already allow some form of legal cannabis use,” Oregon Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, (D), said in a press release. “We are trying to create an above-board, legitimate industry, where for many years only an unregulated market prevailed. It’s past time for Congress to finally help us do that by removing cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act. Operating as a cash-only business invites crime and hinders our work to improve public safety. When businesses in this industry begin using banking services, it will lead to better regulation and improve access to capital. Congress needs to step up and help us make sure this legal industry is properly regulated and contributing to our states’ economies.”
A Republican colleague agreed with Burdick.
“The cannabis industry is making big contributions to Oregon’s economy, and giving these business owners access to secure banking is critical to their ongoing success,” Senate Republican Leader Jackie Winters said. “Voters across the nation have shown support for the legal cannabis industry, it is time for the federal government to take the necessary steps and deschedule cannabis in order to promote safety, security, and remove barriers to much needed research.”
The state legislators’ policy positions are similar to those recently adopted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National Association of Counties, both of which are pushing the federal government to respect state and local marijuana laws.
40 states, including VA, just voted in favor of state-level cannabis regulation. Not legally binding, obviously, but a strong message to Congress to get out of the way. #NCSLsummit
— Lee J. Carter (@carterforva) August 1, 2018
“NCSL’s directives reflect the growing support for reform at the federal level,” said Karen O’Keefe, the state policies director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “State lawmakers, like most of their constituents, are increasingly frustrated with Congress’s failure to resolve the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws. Whereas lawmakers previously expressed their collective opinion on the subject, they are now taking it a step further and demonstrating a commitment to advocating for reform.”
NCSL itself has adopted a number of marijuana reform positions at past conferences, most recently calling for cannabis descheduling last year.
Also at this year’s conference in Los Angeles, lawmakers heard two separate panels on cannabis issues, one focused on banking access and another looking more broadly at the federal-state divide on marijuana.
Sen. @hertzieLA (D-CA) & experts from @NCIAorg, @ABABankers, @Weedmaps & @EastCarolina discuss novel ways to provide financial services to the #marijuana business. #NCSLsummit pic.twitter.com/fKKwJdEVjT
— NCSL (@NCSLorg) July 30, 2018
— Mary Ann Dunwell (@MTMaryAnn) July 31, 2018
Among the exhibitors at the event were the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project, the anti-legalization Smart Approaches to Marijuana and the narcs at the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Marijuana Moment Patreon supporters can read the full text of NCSL’s new cannabis policy directives below:
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.
UN Committee Unexpectedly Withholds Marijuana Scheduling Recommendations
On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) was expected to make recommendations about the international legal status of marijuana, which reform advocates hoped would include a call to deschedule the plant and free up member countries to pursue legalization.
But in a surprise twist, a representative from the organization announced that WHO, a specialized agency of the United Nations, would be temporarily withholding the results of its cannabis assessment, even as it released recommendations on an opioid painkiller and synthetic cannabinoids. The marijuana recommendations are now expected to come out in January.
Earlier this year, the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) released a pre-review of marijuana that included several positive, evidentiary findings. Cannabis has never caused a fatal overdose, the committee said, and research demonstrates that ingredients in the plant can effectively treat pain and improve sleep, for example.
The pre-review results prompted a more in-depth critical review, one of the final stages before the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) makes a determination about whether marijuana should remain in the most restrictive international drug classification. But on Friday, as observers anxiously awaited that determination, WHO pumped the brakes. The committee said it needed more time “for clearance reasons,” according to the International Drug Policy Consortium.
The @WHO's Expert Committee on Drug Dependence met in November to discuss the scheduling of cannabis and related/other substances.
— IDPC (@IDPCnet) December 7, 2018
“This decision to withhold the results of the critical review of cannabis appears to be politically motivated,” Michael Krawitz, a U.S. Air Force veteran and legalization advocate who has pushed for international reform, said in a press release.
“The WHO has been answering many questions about cannabis legalization, which is not within their mandate. I hope the WHO shows courage and stands behind their work on cannabis, findings we expect to be positive based upon recent WHO statements and their other actions today.”
Those other actions include recommending that the opioid painkiller tramadol should not be scheduled under international treaties out of concern that such restrictions would limit access and hurt patients. In August, the committee made a similar recommendation about pure cannabidiol, or CBD, a component of marijuana.
While the critical review of marijuana itself has been postponed, the committee’s recommendations for its international scheduling are still expected to go up for a vote in the CND in March. If the committee does decide to recommend that cannabis be removed from international control, that would have wide-ranging implications for the reform efforts around the world.
In the U.S., the federal government has routinely cited obligations under international treaties to which it is a party as reasons to continue to ban marijuana and its derivatives. For instance, the Food and Drug Administration said in May that CBD doesn’t meet the criteria for federal scheduling at all, but that international treaties obliged it to recommend rescheduling to Schedule V.
“If treaty obligations do not require control of CBD, or if the international controls on CBD change in the future, this recommendation will need to be promptly revisited,” the agency said.
Where Trump’s Pick For Attorney General Stands On Drug Policy
President Donald Trump said on Friday that he plans to nominate William Barr to replace Jeff Sessions as U.S. attorney general.
Barr, who previously served in the position under President George H. W. Bush’s administration, seems less openly hostile to marijuana compared to other potential nominees whose names were floated—like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who pledged to crack down on state-legal cannabis activity during his failed 2016 presidential bid.
That said, he developed a reputation as anti-drug while overseeing harsh enforcement policies under Bush.
….and one of the most highly respected lawyers and legal minds in the Country, he will be a great addition to our team. I look forward to having him join our very successful Administration!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018
The prospective nominee seems to share a worldview with the late president under whom he served. Bush called for “more prisons, more jails, more courts, more prosecutors” to combat drug use and dramatically increased the federal drug control budget to accomplish that goal. In 1992, Barr sanctioned a report that made the “case for more incarceration” as a means to reduce violent crime.
Barr wrote a letter explaining why he was releasing the report, which has now resurfaced as observers attempt to gauge how he will approach drug policy in the 21st century.
“[T]here is no better way to reduce crime than to identify, target, and incapacitate those hardened criminals who commit staggering numbers of violent crimes whenever they are on the streets,” he wrote. “Of course, we cannot incapacitate these criminals unless we build sufficient prison and jail space to house them.”
“Revolving-door justice resulting from inadequate prison and jail space breeds disrespect for the law and places our citizens at risk, unnecessarily, of becoming victims of violent crime.”
He also wrote a letter to lawmakers in 2015 defending the criminal justice system—including mandatory minimum sentences—and encouraging Congress not to bring up a sentencing reform bill.
“It’s hard to imagine an Attorney General as bad as Jeff Sessions when it comes to criminal justice and the drug war, but Trump seems to have found one,” Michael Collins, director of national drug affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a press release. “Nominating Barr totally undermines Trump’s recent endorsement of sentencing reform.”
“The vast majority of Americans believe the war on drugs needs to be replaced with a health-centered approach. It is critically important that the next Attorney General be committed to defending basic rights and moving away from failed drug war policies. William Barr is a disastrous choice.”
Another window into Barr’s criminal justice perspective comes from 1989, when he wrote a Justice Department memo that authorized the FBI to apprehend suspected fugitives living in other countries and extradite them to the U.S. without first getting permission from the country. The intent of the memo seemed to be to enable the U.S. to more easily capture international drug traffickers.
In 2002, Barr compared drug trafficking to terrorism and described the drug war as the “biggest frustration” he faced under Bush. The administration “did a very good job putting in place the building blocks for intelligence building and international cooperation, but we never tightened the noose,” he said.
Interestingly, as The Washington Post reported, Barr would be heading up a department where his daughter, Mary Daly, also works. Daly is the director of opioid enforcement and prevention efforts in the deputy attorney general’s office, and she’s established herself as an advocate for tougher criminal enforcement aimed at driving out the opioid epidemic.
Today’s drug policy landscape is a lot different than it was in the early 1990s, though, and it’s yet to be seen how Barr, if confirmed by the Senate, will navigate conflicting state and federal marijuana laws. He’ll also be inheriting a Justice Department that no longer operates under an Obama-era policy of general non-intervention, after Sessions moved this year to rescind the so-called Cole memo that provided guidance on federal cannabis enforcement.
But for advocates, at least it’s not the guy who said “good people don’t smoke marijuana” anymore and it won’t be one who campaigned for president saying he’d enforce federal prohibition in legal states, either.
Marijuana Bills Are Already Being Pre-Filed For 2019 Legislative Sessions
If you thought 2018 was a big year for marijuana, gear up for 2019. Before the next legislative session has even started, lawmakers in at least four states have already pre-filed a wide range of cannabis reform bills.
In Missouri, where voters approved a medical marijuana initiative during last month’s midterm election, a state lawmaker has already drafted a piece of legislation that would legalize cannabis for adult-use—though it would not establish a retail sales system. Instead, adults 21 and older would be allowed to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants.
At least one marijuana decriminalization bill will be on the table in Virginia next year. The legislation would reduce the penalty for simple possession from a misdemeanor offense punishable by a maximum of a $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail to a civil penalty punishable by a $50 fine for first-time offenders, $100 for second-time offenders and $250 for subsequent offenses.
Marijuana Moment is currently tracking more than 900 cannabis bills in state legislatures and Congress. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.
Down in Texas, lawmakers in the state House and Senate have already pre-filed no fewer than 12 marijuana-related bills. The legislative proposals range from constitutional amendments to fully legalize and regulate cannabis to simple decriminalization policies to lessen penalties for low-level possession.
Finally, in Nevada, where cannabis is legal for adults, lawmakers have introduced a flurry of what are called “bill draft requests” that relate to marijuana. Proposals to revise cannabis tax policies, create a state bank that could potentially service the legal industry and regulate hemp cultivation—among several others—could be taken up by the state legislature next year.
While the pre-filing process has already started in most states, there’s still time and it’s possible that more cannabis legislation will be introduced for consideration in coming days and weeks prior to the formal start of 2019 legislative sessions.