The National Conference of State Legislators passed a resolution at its annual summit recommending that marijuana be removed as a Schedule I substance so that legal cannabis businesses can openly bank. Pictured: A customer pays for his marijuana at the Euflora Dispensary in Denver on March 11, 2015. (RJ Sangosti, Denver Post file)

State legislators group to feds: Remove marijuana from Schedule I, allow banking for pot industry

A coalition of state legislators is calling for the federal government to give legal cannabis businesses access to banking by dropping marijuana from Schedule I classification under the Controlled Substances Act.

The National Conference of State Legislators, at its annual summit in Chicago on Wednesday, passed a resolution supporting the removal of marijuana as a Schedule I substance to enable financial institutions to provide banking services to legal cannabis businesses.

UPDATE: The Drug Enforcement Administration denies petitions calling for marijuana rescheduling, opens door for more cannabis cultivation for research

The NCSL, in its resolution, cited the growing number of states that have adopted the legalization of marijuana in certain forms of usage.

“These new regulatory schemes relating to cannabis have created a significant expansion of the cannabis industry authorized under state law; and business enterprises need access to financial institutions that provide capital, security, efficiency and record-keeping,” according to the resolution.

However, cannabis remains illegal under the Controlled Substances Act and because of the regulations imposed under the federal Bank Secrecy Act, financial institutions have significant barriers to providing those services, according to the resolution.

“Without banking options, cannabis-related businesses are forced to operate exclusively in cash; and a large and growing cash-only industry attracts criminal activity and creates substantial public safety risks,” the resolution continued. “A cash-only industry reduces transparency in accounting and makes it difficult for the state to implement an effective regulatory regime that ensures compliance.”

Officials for the Denver-based NCSL were not immediately available for comment. In a statement, sponsors of the resolution called the action a “strong, unified call upon Congress.”

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is in the “final stages” of reviewing marijuana’s placement on the Controlled Substances Act, an agency official told The Cannabist last week.

The DEA is working through its eight-factor analysis, as required under the Controlled Substances Act, spokesman Russell Baer said at the time.

Schedule I substances, as defined by the CSA, are the “most dangerous drugs” and have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. As the schedule changes, progressing to Schedule II, Schedule III, Schedule IV and Schedule V, the potentials for abuse as well as psychological and physical dependence decline.

Industry experts say that reclassifying marijuana to Schedule II could allow for more research, the ability to prescribe cannabis and ease the ability for banking.

Earlier this year, U.S. House members quashed a bill that would have eliminated penalties for banks that serve legal cannabis businesses. Sponsors of the bill noted a fatal shooting of a security guard that week at an Aurora dispensary.