Two Republicans and two Democrats just announced the formation of a new Congressional group that will coordinate efforts to scale back the federal war on marijuana.
Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Don Young (R-AK) and Jared Polis (D-CO) spoke on Thursday at a press conference to officially kick off the Cannabis Caucus.
The four lawmakers and others have worked in recent years to spearhead legislation to bridge the gap between federal prohibition and the growing number of states that are passing laws to legalize marijuana or allow medical cannabis, with some success.
There were at least 22 separate standalone marijuana reform bills introduced in the last Congress, but only a handful of amendments attached to broader bills moved forward to passage. The new group will aim to better coordinate efforts to enact additional changes into law.
The lawmakers said that more of their colleagues are attracted to the issue as a result of the success marijuana law reform has had at the ballot box in recent election cycles.
There’s a “tremendous increase in interest because of actions that voters in several states have taken,” Polis said. Successful cannabis ballot initiatives have “put it on radar of members of Congress who haven’t focused on this issue before.”
Blumenauer said that he spoke with two Republicans who are interested in the caucus in the House gym on Thursday morning. He added that another GOP member of the House Ways and Means Committee (who he did not name) would be signing on as a lead cosponsor of legislation to repeal the tax provision known as “280E” that disallows cannabis sellers and growers from deducting normal business expenses.
“People will be surprised by the number of folks in the weeks ahead that will join up on a bipartisan basis,” he said.
Of the four lawmakers present at the press conference, only Rohrabacher admitted to ever trying marijuana. Reiterating a story he previously revealed last year, the California Republican said he used cannabis-infused candle wax to treat a shoulder injury.
“I put it on my arm, and guess what? The pain went away for a couple hours and I got sleep for the first time in weeks after that,” he said.
Blumenauer was adamant that he doesn’t plan to try marijuana until federal prohibition is over.
“I have felt since 1973 that it would be hypocritical to try and change the law and be a user,” he said, adding the caveat that if he or a family member got sick and could benefit from medical cannabis, he “would not hesitate for a second.”
The lawmakers said that they hoped the Trump administration would keep the president’s campaign pledges to respect state marijuana laws, but weren’t necessarily counting on it.
Polis said that cannabis businesses and consumers “don’t want to depend on what side of the bed” the attorney general wakes up on each morning, and that statutory changes are needed.
“Marijuana got more votes than Donald Trump” in several states in November, Blumenauer said, and “millions of Trump voters voted for changing marijuana laws.”
A number of marijuana and drug policy reform bills have already been introduced in the House since the 115th Congress began last month, including a proposal led by Rohrabacher to exempt state-legal marijuana activity from the federal Controlled Substances Act, legislation to reschedule cannabis and a bill to examine ways to remedy the racially discriminatory impact of the war on drugs.
Additional proposals to increase military veterans’ access to medical cannabis and to fix banking and tax issues are expected soon.