WASHINGTON (AP) — Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young says he never smoked marijuana, but he’s a member of the newest caucus on Capitol Hill — the Cannabis Caucus.
Four House members announced the formation of the caucus on Thursday. While the name elicits smiles, the lawmakers said their intentions are serious: Keep federal policies from interfering with states as they enact laws that allow for recreational or medical marijuana.
“I believe in states’ rights. Alaska voted to legalize it, pretty large margin,” said Young, 83. “The federal government should stay out of it, period.”
Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized small amounts of marijuana for adult recreational use. Another 28 states have legalized medical marijuana. The members of the newest caucus said they expect strong interest in joining their group based on the state trends.
“Once a state has acted, members of Congress are interested in defending and working with their constituencies,” said Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo.
The leaders of the group include two Republicans, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California and Young. The Democratic co-chairmen are Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Polis.
For the record, the lawmakers, for the most part, said they don’t use marijuana. Young said he’s never used it and doesn’t really believe in it. Polis said he’s never used it either. Blumenauer said he is going to wait until marijuana is legal federally before using it. Rohrabacher said he recently had surgery on his arm and placed wax from a candle infused with cannabis on it because of the pain.
“I got sleep for the first time in weeks after that,” he said.
Among the group’s goals: Keep the federal government from blocking research into marijuana for medical purposes and make it easier for marijuana businesses to operate. The businesses generally can’t accept credit or debit cards due to card companies’ fears about liability for money laundering or other offenses. Nor can they fully deduct their business expenses, Blumenauer said.
Related: Meet the members of Congress’ new Cannabis Caucus
The effort comes at a critical time for the industry. Though it’s made strides nationally, and settled comfortably in Colorado since sales of recreational marijuana began in 2014, there remain a number of pressing issues — starting with President Donald Trump’s appointment of Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General.
How mainstream is marijuana use? There’s now a Congressional Cannabis Caucus https://t.co/roEkfcLWMF
— Christopher Ingraham (@_cingraham) February 16, 2017
The former Alabama senator has raised concerns about the drug and said previously that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” The attitude has prompted anxiety among cannabis companies who are nervous that federal authorities under Trump and Sessions could take a more combative stance toward states that have legalized marijuana.
“Many of us have expressed concerns about the new attorney general,” Polis said. “We’re also cautiously hopeful that President Trump will maintain a commitment he made on the campaign trail where he said it would be a state issue.”
The Denver Post contributed to this report.