The National Conference of State Legislatures, a body of hundreds of lawmakers representing all 50 states, passed a resolution this week urging the federal government to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, signaling a significant shift towards marijuana legalization.
The resolution argues rescheduling cannabis doesn't do enough to protect businesses in states that have moved to legalize cannabis, and legislators want banks to be able to regulate and provide financial services for marijuana businesses currently operating on a cash-only basis.
"One of the goals of regulating marijuana is to take what's currently a multi-billion-dollar illicit economic activity and making it a regulated activity where actual businesses who pay taxes and don't sell to underage consumers, etc. can flourish," said Matt Simon, a legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project who attended the NCSL legislative summit in Boston.
The resolution marks a big step in the fight to end federal prohibition on cannabis, and it signals a growing national desire for the federal government to stay out of marijuana policy.
For a resolution to pass, it must be supported by a majority of legislators in each of 75 percent of the states represented at the conference.
"We have a federal system, 50 states being laboratories of democracy and states are trying very hard to be laboratories of democracy and establish best practices for a regulated cannabis industry," Simon said.
And the resolutions that the NCSL passes can have a big influence on federal legislation.
Earlier this year, the House voted on a budget bill that didn't give Attorney General Jeff Sessions any money to crack down on states with legalized medical marijuana policies. That happened after the NCSL passed a resolution in 2015 urgining Congress not to interfere in state medical marijuana laws.
The latest resolution is the strongest yet in favor of ending federal prohibition on cannabis, but the NCSL stopped short of calling for outright federal legalization.
"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 states.
Recent polling shows that more Americans are amenable to legalization in some form. An April Quinnipiac survey found that 94% of Americans said they support allowing adult patients to use doctor-recommended medical cannabis, while 60% said they support adult-use legalization.
"The majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana and a big chunk of those who don't would resent the idea of Congress telling their state that it's not your choice," Simon said.
The NCSL is also considering another resolution acknowledging that cannabis can be an effective tool in combating the opioid crisis. So far, 29 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana in some form.
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