Nation & World

Meet the founding members of Congress’ new Cannabis Caucus

Lawmakers gathered in Washington, D.C. on Thursday to announce the official formation of a new Cannabis Caucus. Here’s what the four founding members of the group had to say during a news conference about their plans for regulating the industry and protecting state rights.

JARED POLIS, D-Colorado

“We’re really starting to see policymakers view the cannabis industry more favorably for what it is.”

The industry, Polis said, provides money for schools, creates jobs and bolsters the economy as opposed to supporting cartels and addicts.

This caucus “is an opportunity to show that the consumers and entrepreneurs in the marijuana industry are an important part of the American economy and there’s an impact on jobs if the federal government doesn’t repeal this outdated provision,” he said.

The next challenge, he said, is to take the model adopted by states such as Colorado and Washington “and enable all states to follow it — free from federal bullying and federal interference.”

The organization is seeking a commonsense approach to address “antiquated provisions” equating marijuana to heroin, he said.

“We don’t want to be a place where we rely on the goodwill of which side of the bed any attorney general wakes up on at any given day. That’s why we are pursuing statutory changes.”

DON YOUNG, R-Alaska

“You have to be for states’ rights or against states’ rights,” Young said.

His state legalized medical marijuana in 1998, two years after California became the first to do so. And Alaska legalized recreational marijuana by a wide margin in 2014 along with Oregon. Though he noted he’s a conservative Republican, he said he believes the federal government should stay out of this issue.

Young expressed particular interest in helping find a solution to the industry’s banking problems.

“I think we can make a lot of progress this session and next session,” he said.

DANA ROHRABACHER, R-California

Rohrabacher spoke of his friend and colleague Jeff Sessions as a man of principle and a man of honor. And although he may disagree with the principles of the caucus, Sessions is “someone who understands the president of the United States is the one who makes the policy for the executive branch.”

To Rohrabacher, it’s a matter of supporting the individual freedoms supported by the U.S. Constitution. The Founding Fathers did not want the federal government to interfere in people’s personal freedoms, he said.

Supporting states’ rights and independent freedoms should remain consistent: “I’m sorry, you can’t make that argument over here and then just ignore the fact that it’s applicable to this other area of decision-making.”

Rohrabacher added that the caucus needs to “touch people’s hearts as well as their heads,” saying the issue is critical to some Americans’ health and well-being.

“People are suffering. The law is wrong. We have a caucus together, a bipartisan caucus. We’re going to change that situation.”

EARL BLUMENAUER, D-Oregon

Concerning taxes and banking, Blumenauer mentioned IRS code 280E, which disallows credits and deductions for income generated from the sale of controlled substances. He said a fix will be proposed via standalone legislation, but could be achieved “in the context of the back and forth of tax work.”

Blumenauer, who was the winner of the 2016 Cannabist Award for “420-Friendly lawmaker,” also noted last year that about 20 members of Congress participated in a bipartisan working group on marijuana issues.

“It’s time for us to move forward with this bipartisan caucus,” he said.

Denver Post writer Mark K. Matthews and Cannifornian lead writer Brooke Edwards Staggs contributed to this report, which was first published on TheCannabist.co.