Congressman Earl Blumenauer: Cannabis State of the Union 2018
For the two decades after cannabis was listed as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, we were spinning our wheels. While a few states decriminalized marijuana, starting with Oregon in 1973, we were basically overwhelmed by Richard Nixon’s misguided War on Drugs.
In 1996, with California’s vote to legalize medical marijuana—followed shortly thereafter by Arizona and Oregon—we moved into a new period of activism driven by the will of the voters, not the politicians. Victories for medical marijuana and decriminalization began piling up in state after state.
The adult-use victories of 2012 and 2014 in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and the District of Columbia signaled the shift to broader acceptance and increasingly sophisticated campaigns. The wins in eight of nine states’ elections in 2016 cemented the revolution.
The public, and some politicians, finally understood that it was time to end the failed prohibition of cannabis. Whether it was because of the merits of the case for legalization or the power of the politics, or both, people started to get on board.
Last year, I founded the bipartisan Congressional Cannabis Caucus to involve more members of Congress with our efforts. There are now dozens of pieces of legislation to end federal interference with state-legal cannabis, to de-schedule cannabis, and to remove barriers to banking and research. If not for the opposition of Republican leadership, we would have already settled many of these issues once and for all. Even with their opposition, my protections to prevent federal intervention in state medical marijuana programs are in place, and we are poised to expand on them in the year ahead.
The politics have reached an exciting level, with many candidates across the country embracing ending the failed war on drugs. Over the past six months, I’ve worked to personally connect with dozens of candidates running for office to ensure that they have the facts straight about cannabis and will be on our side in Congress.
Even Trump is coming around. After allowing Jeff Sessions to threaten decades of progress, Trump issued a statement reaffirming what he said in Colorado in 2016 as a candidate: hands-off state-legal programs. Given his penchant for frequently changing his mind, Trump's announcement is no guarantee. We need to continue our fight to make sure that the federal government protects states’ rights.
Thanks to your help, we're watching the numbers of supporters grow in Congress, seeing stronger and stronger polling, and there are ballot measures poised for success in Michigan, Missouri, and perhaps Utah. Advocates for medical marijuana in Texas are organizing and optimistic about their chances for success in the 2019 legislative session in Austin.
It’s all coming to a head. The opponents of legalization will be held accountable in this election as an unprecedented array of individuals, organizations, and news media are poised to help us. Last but not least, the industry itself has achieved a greater degree of sophistication and effectiveness. They are making the case for legalization with their business models, how they treat their customers and their employees, and their lobbying efforts in Washington, DC and state capitals.
I don’t want to paint too rosy of a picture here—I know the very real consequences of cannabis remaining illegal at the federal level, especially in my home state of Oregon. I’ve heard countless stories from small cannabis businesses struggling to make their payroll costs despite booming business under the tax burden of 280E and the constant challenge to find a reliable banking institution.
We knew it would take time for states and local governments to get their regulated cannabis programs up and running. But too often these delays and changes have come at the expense of the individuals who have put their lives, and life’s savings, on the line. Though the federal government continues to make threats against our progress, I’m fighting to ensure that Oregon cannabis leaders are engaged in the national policy reform I'm advocating for, and that Oregon businesses are not left behind in the rapidly growing national cannabis industry.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the next Congress will accelerate our progress to reform cannabis laws on the national level. If Republican leadership would allow our legislation to be fully and fairly debated in the House and Senate, it will happen even sooner. Because of the work of advocates and the strong support of voters, progress is inevitable – and the 2018 election will prove it. The winner of the next presidential election will be a candidate who embraces our cause to finish the job of ending failed federal prohibition of marijuana.
Congress has more work to do with research, veterans, economic development, international treaties, and clearing the records of people who have been caught up in this War on Drugs—especially young African-American men who have been treated so unfairly. We need to help with the development of tests that show impairment and better drug testing that recognizes the legitimate use of CBD and medical marijuana. We need new procedures and medicines for Medicare, Medicaid and the VA to provide better health care at lower costs.
These advances will not happen overnight, but they are inevitable. The rate of progress is accelerating. The wind of public opinion is at our back. There’s no reason we cannot see spectacular results if we all do our job in the next 18 months.