National League of Cities Federal Marijuana Reform

The National League of Cities (NLC), a group of leaders of cities, towns, and villages whose mission includes advocacy at the federal level, has published a call for cannabis law reform as part of its 2019 Proposed National Municipal Policy Amendments & Resolutions.

The first of the proposed resolutions is a Calling to Resolve the Conflict between State and Federal Marijuana Laws. The resolution begins by pointing out that “an increasing number of states have passed or are considering voter referenda or legislation to authorize the legal growth and distribution of cannabis for adults’ recreational use” and that “nearly all states have passed voter referenda or legislation authorizing the legal growth, distribution, possession and use of cannabis for a variety of medical conditions,” while the federal government continues to consider cannabis as a “Schedule I illicit substance on the Controlled Substances Act.” This classification implicates “the Bank Secrecy Act,” which severely limits “access to the federally-regulated banking industry.”

Inconsistency Between State and Federal Law

The resolution goes on to point out that lack of banking access has led to “cash only” business dealings, which increases the risk of crime (including tax evasion) and denies business owners the access to needed capital. This, together with the rescission of the Cole memo, which put a “hands off” policy in place regarding federal enforcement of marijuana laws in legal states, has further strained the ability of state-legal businesses to do business.

To resolve this situation, the NLC concludes that “while it does not endorse the use or growth of cannabis, NLC urges the federal government to resolve the conflict between state and federal cannabis laws, and to provide guidance to financial institutions that results in the cannabis market having access to the federally regulated banking system.”

A Call for Local Control

The NLC does not stop there, however. Another resolution, number 35, calls on the federal government to “ensure” that state and local governments have the authority to regulate cannabis markets. This resolution reviews the history of the classification of cannabis as a “Schedule I” drug with no accepted medical use. This classification took effect in 1970, when President Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substance Act (CSA). This classification was quickly disputed. In 1972,  the “National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Policy (more commonly known as the Shafer Commission)…concluded that ‘neither the marihuana user nor the drug itself can be said to constitute a danger to public safety.”

The resolution goes on to point out that, despite the recommendation of the Shafer Commission, with the rise of the war on drugs in the 1980s, marijuana arrests have increased at the same time that mandatory minimum sentences have been made law. The result: “the annual number of cannabis arrests in the U.S. increased from 327,000 in 1990 to more than 697,000 in 2002.” Even as this occurred, “since 2002, public support for legalizing cannabis has increased from 34% to 64% in 2017.”

The resolution goes on to list the economic benefits of legalization, including jobs and tax revenue, and it points out that use by teens has decreased with legalization.

For these and other reasons, the NLC calls on the federal government to “reschedule cannabis by removing it from the list of Schedule I substances under the CSA,” “urges Congress to pass legislation that would ensure states and local governments have the ability to establish laws and regulations on the manufacturing, distribution, and sale of medical and adult-use cannabis within the state,” and calls on various federal agencies “to establish federal regulations for the manufacturing, distribution and sale of legal medical and adult-use cannabis.”

While these resolutions have no binding effect, they do effectively signal what mayors and other civic leaders want from the federal government. Some of today’s mayors become tomorrow’s governors, and tomorrow’s governors become federal-level politicians. The NLC resolutions make clear that support for federal prohibition has all but ended among today’s mayors.

What do you think? Will the federal government deschedule cannabis in 2019? Leave a comment below.

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