A majority of Americans have access to some form of marijuana, supplied by a booming nationwide industry worth billions of dollars that supports more than a hundred thousand jobs. Now that industry has the representation in U.S. Congress to match, after four lawmakers from key marijuana-supporting states announced the launch of the “Cannabis Caucus” on Thursday, Feb. 16.
Founding member Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat who represents the Boulder area, told the Denver Post, “we’re really at the tipping point on marijuana reform,”
Along with Polis — a backer of most of the marijuana-related bills introduced in Congress over the past few years — the caucus’ founding members are Oregon Democrat Rep. Earl Blumenauer, California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young.
The bipartisan caucus launches at a time when the cannabis industry and drug-policy reform both enjoy historic support among voters and incomparable momentum—four more states legalized marijuana for adults in November, and several red states that supported Donald Trump also legalized medical marijuana—but also substantial uncertainty.
Trump’s selection for attorney general, former Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, is a drug-war hardliner and an infamous foe of cannabis. Sessions has yet to indicate what action the Justice Department will take, if any. In the meantime, legal cannabis sales in the United States are approaching $7 billion.
But Congress would have a mountain of marijuana-related work even if Hillary Clinton were president and the attorney general were an alum of Barack Obama’s Choom Gang. Federal rules around banking and taxation force cannabis merchants to deal mostly in cash and prohibit them from taking normal deductions on their taxes. Marijuana users can also be fired from their jobs without warning.
“We’re really at the tipping point on marijuana reform” – Rep. Jared Polis, Colorado
There are no Democrats from California’s sizable Congressional delegation — a glaring absence considering the state’s prominent position in the industry — though other lawmakers could sign on later. Other likely members who have expressed interest since plans for the caucus were first announced in December include Rep. Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat who represents metro Seattle and its many marijuana retail outlets and related businesses.
Echoing the marijuana industry’s fears about Sessions’s vague-but-menacing plans, Smith is “deeply concerned, and we need Congress to do everything we can to try to protect states’ rights,” he told The Stranger last month.
Forming a caucus is also the latest sign that marijuana is becoming a mainstream American product, no more special than corn farmers or pharmaceutical providers — though, at least for now, far less wealthy and powerful, and without its own army of K Street lobbyists marching through the Capitol dictating legislation.
All four members of the Cannabis Caucus have accepted sizable campaign contributions from cannabis industry sources, legalization foes have noted.
TELL US, do you think the cannabis industry needs more dedicated lobbyists?