Pro-pot lawmakers to join forces, launch cannabis caucus
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers looking to draw attention to pet issues have formed groups in favor of everything from auto care to zoos. Now, there’s a caucus for cannabis.
Rep. Earl Bluemenauer said the move is a sign of how mainstream the drive for marijuana legalization has become.
“This is happening all across the country, and its going to continue,” said the Oregon Democrat, an advocate for legalized marijuana since the 1970s. “The industry is growing, as is public acceptance and demand for medical marijuana.”
Blumenauer is one of the caucus’s founding members, along with California Republican Dana Rohrabacher, Colorado Democrat Jared Polis and Alaska Republican Don Young.
A wave of states approved recreational marijuana in November, a seeming boon for the argument that federal laws and regulations need to be revised to keep up.
But it remains to be seen whether new Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime foe of legalized marijuana, will roll back Obama-era policies that have allowed pot businesses to flourish in states where it is legal.
The marijuana industry brought in $6.7 billion in legal sales in the U.S. last year. That figure is expected to grow after eight states — including the economic bellwether of California — passed marijuana-related referendums in November.
With that election, a total of eight states and the District of Columbia have now legalized recreational use of the drug and 28 states have legalized medical marijuana.
Under President Barack Obama, the Justice Department declined to interfere with states that had legalized marijuana, even though federal law defines it as an illegal drug.
Rohrabacher said he doubted the new administration would target medical use, which has mainstream support, but recreational use could be vulnerable.
He and other members of the caucus pointed out that Trump said during his campaign that states should be allowed to make their own laws regarding marijuana use.
Congress passed a spending bill in 2014 that prohibits the Justice Department from using federal money to prosecute medical marijuana businesses in states where it is legal. That prohibition, co-sponsored by Rohrabacher, must be reapproved every fiscal year.
The cannabis caucus will focus initially on increasing medical research and revising banking and tax regulations that impede legal marijuana businesses, Blumenauer said. Measures that would address each of those issues have received broad support in both the House and the Senate in previous Congresses.
“These are things that aren’t strictly partisan,” Blumenauer said.