Last month in partisan Washington DC, two members of opposing political parties of the United States House of Representatives, Dana Rohrabacher and Earl Blumenauer, gathered like-minded colleagues and formed the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. Both Rohrabacher and Blumenauer have a history of introducing and supporting progressive cannabis bills in their states.
Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican House of Representatives member from Orange County, California (District 48), originally introduced the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment with U.S. Reps. Maurice Hinchey and Sam Farr in 2003, aiming to prevent the U.S. Department of Justice from interfering with states that have medical cannabis programs, and after a long wait it was passed by Congress and became law in December 2014.
Earl Blumenauer, a Democratic member of the House of Representatives from Portland, Oregon (District 3), has also been involved in large-scale cannabis reform. He was a big supporter of Oregon Ballot Measure 91 in 2014, to legalize recreational cannabis in the state.
Founding the Congressional Cannabis Caucus
The Congressional Cannabis Caucus was born in response to fear and confusion about what may happen to the cannabis industry, caused largely by our new Commander in Chief’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent comments.
On Friday, February 17th, the National Cannabis Industry Association, the Marijuana Policy Project, the Drug Policy Alliance, NORML, Americans for Safe Access, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, and Clergy for a New Drug Policy issued a joint statement conveying their excitement for this new caucus.
“We commend Representatives Blumenauer, Rohrabacher, Polis, and Young for their leadership on the issue of cannabis policy. The establishment of a Cannabis Caucus will allow members from both parties, who represent diverse constituencies from around the country, to join together for the purpose of advancing sensible cannabis policy reform. It will also facilitate efforts to ease the tension between federal prohibition laws and state laws that regulate cannabis for medical and adult use.”
Rohrabacher and Blumenauer, along with newcomer to the movement, Rep. Don Young, a Republican from Alaska and longtime cannabis champion, Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat from Northwestern Colorado (District 2), banded together to form the core of the caucus. Since then Polis’ fellow Coloradan, Rep. Ed Perlmutter, another longtime cannabis advocate, has joined the team. The caucus aims to protect the rights of states with marijuana programs, increase research efforts, change banking and tax regulations for cannabis industry businesses and decriminalize or legalize. They occupy four out of four hundred thirty-five seats in the house.
So far, this session, five bills have been filed on cannabis issues from civil forfeiture, to respecting states’ rights, to ending the federal prohibition altogether. Four of the five have been introduced by Rohrabacher and his fellow Republicans. All but Barbara Lee’s H.R. 331, a civil forfeiture bill, are repeats of 2015 attempted legislation. You can learn more about the individual bills here, though as of 3/10/17 all were sitting in subcommittees awaiting hearing.
Most members of the caucus, however, have been working on reducing the misery caused by the federal prohibition for quite some time. Given the assortment of bills individual caucus members filed last year, here are some ideas we can expect them to push.
Bills previously introduced by individual members of the Cannabis Caucus
H.R. 667 – Veterans Equal Access Act – Requires the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to authorize VA doctors to provide information about cannabis products to veteran patients in states with approved medical marijuana programs.
H.R. 1855 – Small Business Tax Equity Act – Amends the tax code to allow cannabis business owners who are operating legally to claim standard, business expense deductions.
H.R. 3124 – Clean Slate for Marijuana Offenses Act – Allows for certain cannabis-related charges to be expunged from your record.
H.R. 3561 – Fair Access to Education Act – Would prevent students who have been charged with cannabis-related misdemeanors from being denied financial aid for education.
H.R. 2076 – Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act – Protects financial institutions that provide services to cannabis-related businesses.
H.R. 1013 – Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act – Creates a tiered, regulatory system for cannabis and removes it completely from the Controlled Substances Act schedule.
H.R. 1014 – Marijuana Tax Revenue Act – Creates a federal excise tax on cannabis.
H.R. 1940 – Respect State Marijuana Laws Act – Prevents the federal government from criminally prosecuting anyone for production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of cannabis if they are complying with their state’s laws.
H.R. 1538 – CARERS Act (cosponsored by Rep. Cohen, Steve D-TN-9)– Reclassifies cannabis as a Schedule II, protects financial institutions that provide services to cannabis-related businesses, removes CBD from the Controlled Substances Act schedule, respects states’ laws, and requires VA doctors to provide information about medical marijuana.
Bills supported by the caucus
H.R. 525 – Industrial Hemp Farming Act (Rep. Massie, Thomas R-KY-4)– Originally introduced in 2014 and refiled last session, this bill ends federal hemp prohibition by excluding it from the category of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act.
H.R. 3629 – Respect States’ and Citizens’ Rights Act of 2015 (Rep. DeGette, Diana D-CO-1) – Undoes previously implemented federal cannabis laws and allows states to run their programs without federal government overreach.
H.R. 1774 – Compassionate Access Act (Rep. Griffith, H. Morgan R-VA-9)– Earlier version of the bill Griffith reintroduced this session, ends research related restrictions by excluding CBD from the category of marijuana in the Controlled Substance Act.
H.R. 1635 – Charlotte’s Web Medical Hemp Act (Rep. Perry, Scott R-PA-4)– Excludes “therapeutic hemp” from the definition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act to be used for medicinal purposes. Therapeutic hemp is a cannabis sativa strain with less than 0.3% THC.
Here’s quick rundown on the founding members of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and their plans for cannabis reform in the United States:
From 1969 to 1970, Blumenauer organized a campaign aimed at lowering Oregon’s voting age, entitled “Go 19”. Despite it being unsuccessful at the time, his efforts eventually helped lead to the installment of the 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution which lowered the voting age from 21 years old to 18. In 1972, he was elected to represent District 11 as a Democratic member of the Oregon House of Representatives. He was re-elected in 1974 and 1976 and stayed in District 11 until 1979.
Between 1975 and 1986 he served the Portland Community College Board, and then the Multnomah County Commission. In May 1986, he was elected to serve the Portland City Council and did so until he joined the US House of Representatives in 1996. Blumenauer’s main focus in the cannabis caucus is amending IRS code 280E, which is in regard to banking and taxes in the cannabis industry. He wants cannabis businesses to be able to deduct the same kind of expenses as other businesses.
Blumenauer: “A fix will be proposed via standalone legislation, but it could be achieved in the context of the back and forth of tax work. It’s time for us to move forward with this bipartisan caucus.”
Though Perlmutter was not an original member of the caucus, he has worked on cannabis reform for years. Perlmutter graduated from CU Boulder in 1978 with a law degree and was first elected to the Colorado Senate in 1995 and moved on to Congress in 2006. He began introducing pro-cannabis legislation in Congress in 2012, the same year Colorado passed legalization.
Perlmutter: “We want to build a bipartisan effort, because I think we’re up to forty or so states that have some level of marijuana use. We want to develop the caucus and put together legislation so that state laws aren’t running headlong into the federal law, and the federal law provide states the ability that if a state has a good regulatory structure in place to monitor and manage the marijuana businesses, then leave that state alone. If other states don’t want it, then the federal law is in place.”
An openly gay single parent known to contribute to progressive causes, Jared Polis co-chaired both the “Coloradans for Clean Government” committee and the “Building for Our Future” campaign. Coloradans for Clean Government lobbied in support of an amendment that would ban registered lobbyists from giving gifts to government officials, establish a $50 annual limit on gifts from non-lobbyists, and establish a 2-year “cooling-off” period before former legislators can begin lobbying. In November 2006, it was approved by 62 percent of voters.
“Building for Our Future” was a campaign that supported bonds to be provided to improve older schools in Boulder. The measure was approved in November 2006, and Boulder Valley School District issued $296 million for renovations, which was the largest school bond proposal in Colorado that year. Polis sees how beneficial the cannabis industry has been on the economy in legal states, and he wants the federal government to see it too.
Polis: “We’re really starting to see policymakers view the cannabis industry more favorably for what it is. The industry 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. The next challenge 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.”
In his early political career, Rohrabacher was part of the Reagan administration. From 1976 to 1980, he was an assistant press secretary for Reagan’s presidential campaigns. From 1981 to 1988, he served as one of President Reagan’s senior speech writers. In 1988, Rohrabacher left the Reagan administration to secure the open House seat recently vacated by Dan Lungren. Due to periodic redistricting, Rohrabacher has served multiple districts in the State of California: 42nd District from 1989–1993, 45th District from 1993–2003, 46th District from 2003–2013, and he is currently in the 48th district since 2013. His stance on cannabis reform circles around the importance of upholding our individual constitutional freedoms.
Rohrabacher: “The Founding Fathers did not want the federal government to interfere in people’s personal freedoms. 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. This 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.”
Young’s political career began when he was elected Mayor of Fort Yukon, Alaska, in 1964. He served as mayor until 1968, and in 1970 he was elected to State Senate, which is a job he says he wasn’t particularly fond of. He began his run for Congress in 1972, and by 1974 he was elected to the US House of Representatives. He has been re-elected in every vote since then and is still currently serving the at-large district, which covers the entire state of Alaska. Similar to Blumenauer, Young expressed concern with the modern finance system in the cannabis industry. Young is particularly interested in helping find a solution to the industry’s banking problems.
Young: “You have to be for states’ rights or against states’ rights. I think we can make a lot of progress this session and next session.”
With so many supporters, groups, advocates, and this new Congressional Cannabis Committee, legalization may not be such a distant dream anymore.