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Ep.238: Congressman Blumenauer

Cannabis Economy Podcast
Ep.238: Congressman Blumenauer

Ep.238: Congressman Blumenauer

Congressman Earl Blumenauer joins us, discussing bowties, bicycles and of course- cannabis. He represents Portland, Oregon home to both medical and adult-use cannabis. The congressman says diving into the issue of cannabis in the 1970’s was fascinating. He didn’t and doesn’t understand the notion of criminalizing something not harmful. He describes it as lunacy. He was there when Oregon was the very first state to decriminalize cannabis and he continues to fight for complete legalization through the newly formed Cannabis Caucus. The congressman discusses banking for cannabis, cannabis taxation through 280E and the fact that we ought to stop the roadblocks to cannabis research. The cannabis caucus is working on all of these issues and more.

Transcript:

Speaker 1: Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Congressman Earl Blumenauer joins US discussing [inaudible] bicycles, and of course cannabis. He represents Portland, Oregon home to both medical and adult use cannabis. The congressman says, diving into the issue of cannabis in the 19 seventies was fascinating. He didn't and doesn't understand the notion of criminalizing something that isn't harmful. He describes it as lunacy. He was there when Oregon was the very first date to decriminalize cannabis and he continues to fight for complete legalization. Through the newly formed Cannabis Caucus, the congressmen discusses banking for cannabis, cannabis taxation through to 80, and the fact that we ought to stop the roadblocks to cannabis research. The cannabis caucus is working on all of these issues and more. Welcome to cannabis economy. I'm your host Seth Adler. Check us out on social with the American economy. That's two ends of the word economy. Congressman Earl Blumenauer. I, I, I would imagine that the

Speaker 2: first two things to talk about are the bow ties and the bicycles, right? I mean, it takes a, a, a unique and special man to wear a bow tie. How long have you had this habit? I often wear bow ties before I came to Congress, but I came just as Paul Simon was leaving and I have the. I'm the only person who's wearing a bow tie every day for 21 years. There you go. That's the other Paul Simon for most of our audience. Right? Yeah. And then the bicycles, uh, you know, uh, that's a more serious matter I think for representative Earl Blumenauer. Thank you so much for having me. Um, you know, where did this kind of love affair begin? But I've always enjoyed cycling. It was something that I have used for transportation, um, as a child state legislator, I've ridden my bike to work, uh, again every day for over 20 years in Congress.

Speaker 2: Um, but it's, uh, it's also a very serious application of very simple common sense technology. I, despite some extraordinarily advanced a bicycle manufacturing burning calories instead of fossil fuel, uh, being able to, uh, have opportunities to make the experience more enjoyable and safer. Um, and I represent Portland, Oregon, which is the bicycling capital of the country. We've, uh, really, uh, it's been embraced by my community and I was pleased for 10 years being Portland's Commissioner of public work, stamp Buscher that in, and I continue to enjoy working on it here in Washington DC and around the country.

Speaker 3: Amsterdam is the Portland of Holland, I think is what they say as far as bicycle usage is concerned. Uh, you know, Oregon and Portland are, are such unique places. Celebrated it, of course by the television show, Portlandia for those not familiar with the region, the area, the state, the city. Um, first off how, uh, you know, spot on is the television show and then tell us more. Well,

Speaker 2: they talk about Portlandia a as a place where the nineties are alive and. Well indeed, I actually watched the first three episodes before I realized that it was a parody and not a documentary. I mean these are, these are my people and many of the things that they, uh, have a humorous twist really are part of the fabric in terms of people being terminally polite, a deeply aware of where their food is sourced. Uh, I'm convinced I probably marched in the allergy pride parade. Um, it's a, it's a, it's a fun and whimsical look, um, but at, at a community that is a little bit idiosyncratic but really provides opportunities for people to be engaged to pursue their values a environmentally, socially, um, is, uh, it's a, it's a great privilege to represent a and we're watching other communities around the country. Um, Brooklyn is Portland East. I say we're watching a, this urban renaissance occurring in a number of cities and uh, we'd like to think that we helped move that along on a national level.

Speaker 1: Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Congressman Earl Blumenauer joins US discussing [inaudible] bicycles, and of course cannabis. He represents Portland, Oregon home to both medical and adult use cannabis. The congressman says, diving into the issue of cannabis in the 19 seventies was fascinating. He didn't and doesn't understand the notion of criminalizing something that isn't harmful. He describes it as lunacy. He was there when Oregon was the very first date to decriminalize cannabis and he continues to fight for complete legalization. Through the newly formed Cannabis Caucus, the congressmen discusses banking for cannabis, cannabis taxation through to 80, and the fact that we ought to stop the roadblocks to cannabis research. The cannabis caucus is working on all of these issues and more. Welcome to cannabis economy. I'm your host Seth Adler. Check us out on social with the American economy. That's two ends of the word economy. Congressman Earl Blumenauer. I, I, I would imagine that the

Speaker 2: first two things to talk about are the bow ties and the bicycles, right? I mean, it takes a, a, a unique and special man to wear a bow tie. How long have you had this habit? I often wear bow ties before I came to Congress, but I came just as Paul Simon was leaving and I have the. I'm the only person who's wearing a bow tie every day for 21 years. There you go. That's the other Paul Simon for most of our audience. Right? Yeah. And then the bicycles, uh, you know, uh, that's a more serious matter I think for representative Earl Blumenauer. Thank you so much for having me. Um, you know, where did this kind of love affair begin? But I've always enjoyed cycling. It was something that I have used for transportation, um, as a child state legislator, I've ridden my bike to work, uh, again every day for over 20 years in Congress.

Speaker 2: Um, but it's, uh, it's also a very serious application of very simple common sense technology. I, despite some extraordinarily advanced a bicycle manufacturing burning calories instead of fossil fuel, uh, being able to, uh, have opportunities to make the experience more enjoyable and safer. Um, and I represent Portland, Oregon, which is the bicycling capital of the country. We've, uh, really, uh, it's been embraced by my community and I was pleased for 10 years being Portland's Commissioner of public work, stamp Buscher that in, and I continue to enjoy working on it here in Washington DC and around the country.

Speaker 3: Amsterdam is the Portland of Holland, I think is what they say as far as bicycle usage is concerned. Uh, you know, Oregon and Portland are, are such unique places. Celebrated it, of course by the television show, Portlandia for those not familiar with the region, the area, the state, the city. Um, first off how, uh, you know, spot on is the television show and then tell us more. Well,

Speaker 2: they talk about Portlandia a as a place where the nineties are alive and. Well indeed, I actually watched the first three episodes before I realized that it was a parody and not a documentary. I mean these are, these are my people and many of the things that they, uh, have a humorous twist really are part of the fabric in terms of people being terminally polite, a deeply aware of where their food is sourced. Uh, I'm convinced I probably marched in the allergy pride parade. Um, it's a, it's a, it's a fun and whimsical look, um, but at, at a community that is a little bit idiosyncratic but really provides opportunities for people to be engaged to pursue their values a environmentally, socially, um, is, uh, it's a, it's a great privilege to represent a and we're watching other communities around the country. Um, Brooklyn is Portland East. I say we're watching a, this urban renaissance occurring in a number of cities and uh, we'd like to think that we helped move that along on a national level.

Speaker 3: Yeah, certainly. And, and I mean, you know, of what you speak, this is where you were born and bred from, uh, from way back when, um, you know, I'm a lifer. You are a lifer. Uh, as far as your early days, you know, how much has it changed from when you were a kid? Describe kind of where you grew up in and what life was like back back then.

Speaker 2: Well, a Portland follow the trajectory of many mature American cities sort of hollowed out by freeways and the automobile. Um, but, uh, about 40 years ago there was a conscious decision to be able to do a better land use planning, be able to provide more and better transportation choices, aggressive environmental protection, which has really helped redefine the community. It has gone from a city that was losing population in the sixties and early seventies, uh, to one that has been growing very rapidly, um, particularly attracting millennials, well educated young people who could live anywhere in the world who've chosen to move to our community. And increasingly we're also seeing, uh, their parents and grandparents who decide that Portland is a place after they sell the business or they want to retire or they want to be closer to family and friends. Um, that's, that's really, um, helped add some interesting vitality to Portland and it's a, it's a challenge to represent, but it's a pleasure.

Speaker 3: Well, you say it's a challenge to represent, you have been representing, uh, the state for awhile now. Um, what called you into public service? You know, why is this a part of your being? Why do you need to serve?

Speaker 2: I became involved in the political process as a college student leading a campaign and Oregon to lower the voting age and actually testifying before Congress on the constitutional amendment. Um, and I just never stopped. I got involved with efforts that, that dealt with voting rights, as I mentioned in the and lowering the voting age. And then within two years I was actually serving in the Oregon legislature. Uh, which was a fascinating, fascinating time. Uh, actually my first legislative session was 1973 and that's where I became introduced to cannabis as an issue. Interesting. Uh, helping a blaze the way for Oregon to be the very first state to decriminalize marijuana. And I've been involved with the issue ever since.

Speaker 3: That's the kind of normal keith strop a way back when heath was there.

Speaker 2: He was, he was in the galleries when we voted on it. I think he actually came back to my apartment after, uh, after the vote that evening. It's funny to run into him, you know, 40 years later and you can just kind of reminisce about things that we both experienced.

Speaker 3: Well, what was it like on the floor, you, you mentioned it, it, that it obviously had an impact for everybody, but for you personally, um, can you describe the scene for us?

Speaker 2: Well, the diving into this issue was fascinating. It was something that I really did not have firsthand experience with. I never used it. I didn't have any friends, at least that I knew who used it, but as we examined the issue, the notion of taking something that was no more harmful than probably less harmful than things that are perfectly legal and criminalize the behavior of adults. I'm struck me then and continues to, um, for as far as I'm concerned, it's lunacy. Uh, so it's been pretty easy to get engaged in food and deeply involved. Yeah. Um, and it, it's interesting there. I mean, I've done lots of work on environment in taxation in health and transportation, uh, but there's probably, I don't think there's any issue that has given me greater personal satisfaction and then being part of, especially in the last 10 years as we're taking on the national level, the campaign to eliminate the failed program of prohibition.

Speaker 2: It, and it's clear that is tied up in so many different areas. It's a personal freedom, um, black lives matter, the failed policy of prohibition and it's unequal application has meant that hundreds of thousands of young people, especially young people of color, particularly African American young men, get caught in the web of the criminal justice system. It's unfortunate. It's unfair and it can be devastating. Um, the notion that we take a product that has been used for Millennia, um, and we go through this elaborate dance. I mean him, my goodness, uh, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would, I'm sure are rolling in their graves with the notion that farmers and ranchers in Oregon or a Wisconsin cannot cultivate something that was a staple on their plantation. Yeah. Um,

Speaker 3: either way, even back then a bipartisan issue, uh, you know,

Speaker 2: uh, because, uh, Washington was a federalist and Jefferson starting to certainly wasn't right. I mean, this was not political. It was a sustainable product that was useful and was a part of the American fabric. If I can mix my metaphors, I actually have a great file photo of a huge hemp plant that was cultivated on the site of the current Pentagon. Okay. Uh, when the federal government was urging him cultivation early in World War II, uh, for strategic materials, a sisal for a rope and for freedom. Right. So it's, um, it's been, uh, so it, it, it's kind of cascaded. We've been, uh, the notion of unlocking the potential of medical marijuana. Uh, the more work I do, the more people I talked to, the research I've undertaken, um, it's really, uh, has a profound effect on a number of people. We're all familiar with, uh, the stories about people who use medical marijuana to deal with appetite suppression or violent nausea.

Speaker 2: Uh, that has been, I mean, I've heard from people for whom this has transformed their lives and it enabled them to cope with the DA. Just a devastating impact of chemotherapy. I'm hearing from a returning veterans with Ptsd and chronic pain that medical marijuana, it really made it possible for them to integrate into society at a time when we have the veterans administration is not really done a very good job helping our veterans deal with chronic pain and ptsd and they have been overprescribed opioids. I mean, isn't it interesting that now people are starting to be concerned about an entirely predictable and avoidable opioid epidemic with overdose deaths and a concurrently people, uh, when their supply is interrupted, shift to heroin. I mean, this is bad stuff. States that have more access to medical marijuana prescribe fewer pills.

Speaker 2: Wow. Uh, and we're, again, I've just been eyeopening for me this, this last decade doing more work with the community on medical marijuana. Uh, and this is something that the federal government has purposely strangled the research, making it difficult in some cases, impossible. Um, and it's outrageous now. We've seen families uproot, move across the country, medical refugee to be able to have access to medical marijuana for their infants that have extreme seizure disorders and cannabis that low thc is the only thing that gives relief from their babies being tortured. Um, so for me, the list goes on and on, but it's tied up into so many things that are important. Freedom healthcare, dealing with the opiod crisis, dealing with criminal justice reform. And then there is a, a huge chapter of economic development that is rapidly unfolding here. Uh, and we're a few years away I think from unlocking that potential.

Speaker 3: Well, you talk about the economic development because that's no matter your political stripes, that's something that folks kind of can all agree on, right? More jobs. Sounds good. How so?

Speaker 2: Well, actually there's a number of elements in the cannabis debate that really are not that controversial and don't really depend upon your personal view of adult or medical marijuana. I've been working in this space for years. I've established for decades. I have never met a single human being who feels there's any constructive purpose served by forcing state legal marijuana businesses to be conducted on an all cash basis. Okay. No matter what people think about marijuana, it's outrageous that people should be able to have bank accounts and credit cards to be able to do financial planning. Um, and what we have now is an open invitation for money laundering for theft, uh, and it's, uh, it's a tax evasion and it's a huge burden on these emerging businesses.

Speaker 3: What were kind of weaving around. And I think that that's okay because I've agreed with everything that you've said. So I'm the host. I, you know, that it sounds good to me as far as the cannabis caucus is concerned, banking is obviously one of the main reasons that you came together with your colleagues. Talk about what we, what you, what all of us can do a right now on banking, um, from a federal perspective to,

Speaker 2: well, part of the challenge and it just, if you'll allow me when digression another issue, I mean, there, there are three issues that should not be controversial at all. One Stop the insanity of being all cash business. Okay. Secondly, state legal marijuana enterprises cannot fully deduct their business expenses, so they, they pay two, three, four times higher taxes than similar businesses. Completely unfair, burdensome, and again, probably inspire some people to be maybe a little creative in their bookkeeping. I mean, I'm convinced if we eliminate to 80, he allow them to be taxed fairly. There'll be a lot more taxes will be paid. And the third is the research element. Sure. That we ought to stop the federal roadblocks and move forward. The cannabis caucus is an opportunity for members of Congress to come together and even more important, the certified smart young people who work for them on Capital Hill, uh, to be able to coordinate efforts will have pro.

Speaker 2: We've had an informal working group that's been very helpful in terms of making sure that we're coordinated, that we've got a wide array of legislation that's introduced, uh, that we have different people taking the lead on different items. The caucus will take that to a higher level of organization and visibility. It's time people, people are curious. They particularly after the elections in November, where eight additional states approved expansion of adult or medical marijuana. This is an opportunity for us to build on that momentum, bring more people together and hasten these simple common sense reforms, banking fair tax and research.

Speaker 3: Yeah. Um, in terms of banking specifically, you know, just getting together, being, being one, a kind of a tent pole, a concept. Um, what, what, uh, what else is on the docket as far as banking as far as you're concerned?

Speaker 2: Well, we have a legislation that some of our colleagues, I have taken the lead on who are on financial services and I'm a senator Merkley in the Senate, uh, at Pearl Motor in Denny heck in the house and a number of us are cosponsoring and helping move that along. Um, we continue to probe administrative remedies. Um, I, I don't think it should be that hard to justify a, particularly when we have state legal marijuana regimens that really helped keep track from seed to sale. Yup. Uh, so there's, there should be a no inherent reason that we can't, uh, enabled them to have access to banking. Uh, so, but we're looking administratively, we're looking legislatively, um, and then frankly there are organizations, credit unions, banks that are seeing if they can organize around it. Um, we are going to raise the profile, we're going to push on legislation, standalone legislation and being wrapped into other builds that move along a conveyor belt. I've also had a very revealing conversation with a cabinet level appointee in the trump administration who's very interested in seeing if they can do some administrative remedy dealing with banking and, and he had not been aware of the inequity as far as taxation is concerned. He didn't know about to 88 and was very open to being pretty. So we've got administrative, we've got legislative. Uh, we've got some people who are out there within the existing framework and we're going to, I think, see a lot of action on this.

Speaker 3: Can you tell us anything more as far as that conversation in the administrative branch of our guns?

Speaker 2: I don't want to blow anybody's cover. Fair enough. Uh, and this is, uh, an interesting situation because there are some people in the trump administration that are sending mixed signals. Uh, now the president on the campaign trail, uh, appeared to say, and a couple of times actually said the state side to be able to pursue what they're doing. Um, but they're, uh, Jeff, jeff sessions is a said some curious things and he's not particularly friendly towards marijuana.

Speaker 3: He's not an. And now that you've brought them up, the two things that he's kind of brought up are I'm a somehow a relationship with opioids and, you know, I'd love for you to speak to that. Um, and then also violence, which we know it's both are opposite. So how do we get him better information, I guess?

Speaker 2: Well, I don't know that our goal should be to get jeff sessions better information. I mean, the evidence is pretty clear, uh, in the states that have expanded the use of legalized cannabis, either medical or adult use a, there's not been a spike in violence. Um, and as a practical matter states that have greater availability of legal marijuana, a procedure, there are fewer pills prescribed. Right? This helps people deal with anxiety, with chronic pain. We've talked about PTSD. There's any number of conditions that otherwise people would be self medicating a with a very harmful substances that are addictive, that are expensive and destructive. So evidence is clear. Uh, we are working to expand that awareness and to build bridges in both the house and the Senate and for people in the administration who are interested in the facts. One of the things I point out in virtually every interview that I give is that in the fall we had eight of nine states, uh, approve, uh, access to cannabis, a medical or adult. Um, it was my privilege to campaign, be involved in every one of those areas. And it was really fascinating to watch, but in those states, the nine states that it was on the ballot, marijuana that got more votes than Donald Trump.

Speaker 3: Yeah. At no matter if you're a republican or a Democrat, cannabis always gets more votes than you.

Speaker 2: Well, it's, I think it would be ill advised not just the policy is wrong. Yeah. And that the failed policy of prohibition is not going to be successful. It's expensive, it's ineffective. It in fact, makes our children at greater risk. Um, but it's, uh, it, I think politically, if anybody there asked my advice, I would say, why would you get on the wrong side of an issue where now public support is north of 60 percent? But if you ask the question slightly differently, that is, again, regardless of your personal views about marijuana, should the federal government interfere with what state voters have decided and then the percentages go up another 10 percent?

Speaker 3: Absolutely. And that's, I was just baffled by hearing the, the separation of a medical and adult use as far as federal enforcement because my understanding was that, you know, a conservative point of view is we're not for federal enforcement of anything, especially if the states have voted on it, you know, coming from a state that has both medical and adult use, what can you share just generally about the fact that separating the two of those things doesn't even mean anything anyway, uh, at the ground level of commerce.

Speaker 2: Well, it's more, I think it's more fundamental at some level that we, that this train has left the station. The public opinion has shifted. We have a millions of people that have access to medical marijuana, we now have over 64 million people have access to a adult use, and those numbers are likely to go up. It makes no sense to try and intervene and overcome what the individual states have. It is. Um, I'm, I projected that within five years this is going to be game over and I continued that we will never elect an anti cannabis president. We are not going to watch a people dive into this and be negative. It's going to hurt them politically. Uh, and that's not where the public is. Um, so I'm, I'm confident that we are going to move into and it's not that we won't have problems. I mean, bear in mind, we had to, with the Obama administration that had more or less hands off, we had to have the Rohrabacher amendment and I'm introducing it this time with Dana. Uh, uh,

Speaker 3: by any chance

Speaker 2: we want to expand purpose, scope. Excellent. Um, but it is a, we had to do that with the Obama administration. We're going to have to do it with the trump administration. It may be even if a trump who said, you know, hands off, let the states do what Obama said he had bigger fish to fry. Sure. But the problem is we have a large drug apparatus in 93 us attorney's offices and with some of the drug enforcement agencies that take on a life of their own, a logic of their own. So we're going to have to prohibit the use of federal funds, uh, to interfere with state legal operations. And I'm convinced that we will.

Speaker 3: Right. Which was Rohrabacher Rohrabacher Farr. And now sounds like Rebecca Blumenauer. I'm going to get to three final questions, but just prior to that, you said game over in five years. I wonder what game over means.

Speaker 2: Uh, I predict that within five years, virtually the entire American population will have access to state legal, medical marijuana. I predict that within five years, states will be free to regulate adult use. Like they do alcohol, they can choose to do it or not. Uh, but the federal government will not be interfering and people will be able to tailor how they want to go about it the same way they do with alcohol. I, I think that that is inevitable. I think it's a very encouraging. We're about 90 percent there now. We've got a few bumps that we have to work out. But, um, I think within five years we'll be able to make this into something that's taxed regulated. The industry will be growing. Uh, we'll be able to have research that functions appropriately to be able to answer some questions. It shouldn't be any questions about this. They said if we research it properly and they will be paying fair taxes with a check.

Speaker 3: I love it. Quickly, a three final questions. I'll tell you what they are. I'll ask you them in what has most surprised you in cannabis? What has most surprised you in life and on the soundtrack of your life? One track, one song that's got to be on there. But first things first, what has most surprised you in cannabis?

Speaker 2: I'm, I am surprised that politicians are so slow to recognize that the public is so far ahead of them. Right? You know, it's, it's interesting. I, I had been working in all these campaigns. I rarely encounter politicians. This is something that has been driven by advocates. This has been driven by the grassroots, by people who have a passion, which is exciting, but it's interesting to me that politicians have been so slow to understand the strength and the merit of this issue.

Speaker 3: We, the people that's been driven by we the people. Um, what has most surprised you in life? I wonder,

Speaker 2: you know, who knows, I'm in this, uh, this unusual space where we're having a great national civics lesson. Um, it's, uh, we, we tend to make these things so hard, uh, that there are opportunities that we can bring people together to solve problems. It doesn't have to be so divisive. It doesn't have to be so complicated. Um, and we're slow to recognize that. And that's a little frustrating for me.

Speaker 3: I am right there with you side by side will go forth. But a final question on the soundtrack of your life, what is one track, one song that's got to beyond their bridge over troubled waters? So back to the other, Paul Simon, indeed. Representative Blumenauer. Thank you so much. You Bet. Appreciate it. And there you have congressman

Speaker 1: Blumenauer. I would imagine that if there were more representatives like congressman Blumenauer, we might be able to get some stuff done there in Congress. And uh, we've got, uh, episodes coming up with his colleagues, perlmutter and war backer. So who knows, maybe we're going to get something done here. Thanks for listening.

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Cannabis Economy is a real-time history of legal cannabis. We chronicle how personal and industry histories have combined to provide our current reality.