Last week, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) adopted a formal resolution that Congress enable financial institutions to serve marijuana businesses. The most interesting thing about the resolution was its forcefulness: it did not ask Congress to pass a banking bill specific to cannabis, or even to revisit the FinCEN guidelines for financial services. Instead, NCSL cut to the heart of the issue, telling Congress to deschedule marijuana altogether.
NCSL is a big deal. The bi-partisan organization represents all state legislators and their staffers nationwide. And NCSL seems to get more progressive on cannabis policy with each passing year. Last year, for example, NCSL issued a resolution that marijuana be removed from Schedule I, but not descheduled entirely. Next session, NCSL may adopt a separate resolution calling on Congress to “make medical cannabis policy a national priority to expand access to affordable medicine.” That resolution is rooted in fighting opioid addiction.
The timing of the NCSL action is important. We know that recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions received recommendations on marijuana enforcement policy from a Justice Department task force. Sessions is keeping those recommendations under wraps, probably because they provided him with nothing to support his enforcement animus (a finding confirmed on Friday by an Associated Press report). At this point, it’s clear that Sessions is on a quixotic, lonely mission, when it comes to the issue of cannabis.
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Still, Sessions is not throwing in the towel. After failing to convince Congress to allocate funds for the prosecution of medical marijuana operators two weeks ago, Sessions wrote the governors of a number of states with “serious questions” about their state cannabis programs. This letter was sent while federal agency representatives held veiled meetings about marijuana policy with state and local officials in Colorado. What exactly those meetings covered has not been ascertained. We do know, however, that Sessions has been using bogus weed statistics in the hopes of furthering his aims.
With Sessions working around the edges to promote his retrograde War on Drugs agenda, it is heartening to see legislative groups like NCSL proclaim that states are having none of it.
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Going forward, states will continue to set the trend on cannabis legalization, although Congress may find itself having to act sooner rather than later to re- or deschedule marijuana. Ironically, the catalyst for that action may be Attorney General Sessions, who continues tilting at windmills in his own strange reality.
Attorney Vince Sliwoski heads up Harris Bricken’s Portland office and is a leading practitioner in Oregon’s ever-evolving cannabis industry.
This story was originally published on Canna Law Blog.