By Benjamin Goad - 01/24/14 02:44 PM EST
The Justice Department should cross marijuana off the government's list of most dangerous drugs, says a House Democrat now trying to build congressional support for the action.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) is making the case to remove pot from the list of "Schedule I" drugs, a day after Attorney General Eric Holder revealed that the Justice Department would adjust existing rules to allow legal marijuana businesses to access the banking system.
Recreational pot use became legal in Colorado this month, and 20 other states allow it for medicinal purposes.
“It’s an important step toward fixing federal policy toward marijuana,” Blumenauer said Friday in a written statement. “The next step is removing marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.”
The Justice Department has authority under the statute to add and remove drugs from the federal list, which lays out criminal penalties for anyone caught dealing or possessing them.
Blumenauer said he is gathering signatures from fellow lawmakers on a letter pressing President Obama to pull marijuana from the Schedule 1 list.
Obama, in a New Yorker magazine article published this week, said he believes marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol and that it was “important” that the legalization of the drug in states “go forward” because it would prevent unfair penalties for some users.
Though the statements appeared to contradict the National Drug Control Policy's official stance on the drug, the White House maintained that its position on marijuana has not changed.
A state task force in Colorado asked the Justice Department last year to adjust various federal banking and tax regulations, which stand as barriers to legal business operations.
“Since marijuana is a controlled substance under federal law, banks must either refuse to hold accounts for legal marijuana businesses in Colorado or risk prosecution,” the task force wrote at the time.
Colorado is also appealing to the government to amend a portion of the federal tax code that prohibits legal Colorado marijuana businesses from claiming deductions.
On Thursday, Holder said the Justice Department would rework regulations to address the banking issue. The changes are intended to alleviate concerns that legal marijuana dispensaries would be forced to keep large sums of cash on hand.
“They want to be able to use the banking system,” Holder said Thursday in Virginia. “There’s a public safety component to this.”
It is not clear how soon the government may act on that concern or whether the tax issue will also be addressed.