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Ep.349: US Congressman, Tom McClintock

Cannabis Economy Podcast
Ep.349: US Congressman, Tom McClintock

Ep.349: US Congressman, Tom McClintock

Half the namesake of the McClintock Polis Amendment which seeks to protect adult-use cannabis businesses the same way that the Rohrabacher Blumenauer Amendment protects medical cannabis businesses from the federal government, US Congressman Tom McClintock joins us to discuss his reasoning for sponsoring the bill. He also notes his general philosophy of governance as it relates to state vs. federal government.

Transcript:

Tom McClintock: Congressman Tom McClintock, 4th District of California.

Seth Adler: Okay, fantastic. As far as just getting to know you and checking the levels here, what was your first pet's name?

Tom McClintock: My first pet's name, good Lord, but I guess it was Campbell.

Seth Adler: What kind of animal was this?

Tom McClintock: It was a sheepdog.

Seth Adler: Okay, so that's a bigger dog, and you would have been a smaller guy.

Tom McClintock: I was a little guy, he was a big dog, but we got along just great.

Seth Adler: That's it. That's it. So we're here to find out how we are getting along as far as cannabis is concerned, so we'll just dive right in with the Attorney General rescinding the Cole and Ogden memos. It's only January; it feels like years. But when that did happen, what was your personal reaction?

Tom McClintock: Well, first of all, I think he rescinded them on sound ground. The memos essentially said that if the executive doesn't like a law, he doesn't have to enforce it. Well, that's entirely contrary to the second article of the Constitution, which commands the President to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, so I think it was sound law. But-

Seth Adler: So the Controlled Substances Act is not being kind of ...

Tom McClintock: But that same Constitution also reserves to the states authority over commerce conducted entirely within the states. Now, I realize that a loophole the size of a truck has been driven through that since the 1930s, but the fact is the federal government may regulate interstate commerce. It may regulate marijuana within the territories, but if it is grown, distributed and consumed entirely within the state boundaries, I see no Constitutional authority for the federal government to intervene. And there's a very important practical reason for that. We want the states to experiment with different policies so that the rest of us can benefit from their experience, good or bad.

Seth Adler: Louis Brandeis?

Tom McClintock: Exactly.

Seth Adler: Laboratories of innovation?

Tom McClintock: That's it.

Seth Adler: So that is a clear take on your kind of viewpoint here, which is yes, I understand the Constitution, essentially. And so that's, I would imagine, why the McClintock-Polis Amendment exists at least in some form. It has not been voted in. So let's just kind of go back to make sure that we understand it from your perspective. All the way back when, how was this conceived?

Tom McClintock: How was the Amendment conceived?

Seth Adler: Indeed.

Tom McClintock: Well, it was the next logical step after the Rohrabacher Amendment on the medical use of marijuana.

Seth Adler: Indeed.

Tom McClintock: And for essentially the same overall principles, and that is that just laws protect us from others. Tyrannical laws try to protect us from ourselves. Bruce Herschensohn -- speaking of tobacco but it's equally applicable to cannabis or a lot of other things the government tries to do -- he once pointed out that for every pleasure in life, there is a concomitant risk, and it's usually the greater the pleasure, the bigger the risk. He went on to say we could, we enough laws and force and regulations and police, we could create a nearly risk-free society, but it would be the most drab, colorless, tedious, awful existence we could possibly devise. I think that the government has an important responsibility to warn people of the adverse effects of marijuana.

Tom McClintock: Congressman Tom McClintock, 4th District of California.

Seth Adler: Okay, fantastic. As far as just getting to know you and checking the levels here, what was your first pet's name?

Tom McClintock: My first pet's name, good Lord, but I guess it was Campbell.

Seth Adler: What kind of animal was this?

Tom McClintock: It was a sheepdog.

Seth Adler: Okay, so that's a bigger dog, and you would have been a smaller guy.

Tom McClintock: I was a little guy, he was a big dog, but we got along just great.

Seth Adler: That's it. That's it. So we're here to find out how we are getting along as far as cannabis is concerned, so we'll just dive right in with the Attorney General rescinding the Cole and Ogden memos. It's only January; it feels like years. But when that did happen, what was your personal reaction?

Tom McClintock: Well, first of all, I think he rescinded them on sound ground. The memos essentially said that if the executive doesn't like a law, he doesn't have to enforce it. Well, that's entirely contrary to the second article of the Constitution, which commands the President to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, so I think it was sound law. But-

Seth Adler: So the Controlled Substances Act is not being kind of ...

Tom McClintock: But that same Constitution also reserves to the states authority over commerce conducted entirely within the states. Now, I realize that a loophole the size of a truck has been driven through that since the 1930s, but the fact is the federal government may regulate interstate commerce. It may regulate marijuana within the territories, but if it is grown, distributed and consumed entirely within the state boundaries, I see no Constitutional authority for the federal government to intervene. And there's a very important practical reason for that. We want the states to experiment with different policies so that the rest of us can benefit from their experience, good or bad.

Seth Adler: Louis Brandeis?

Tom McClintock: Exactly.

Seth Adler: Laboratories of innovation?

Tom McClintock: That's it.

Seth Adler: So that is a clear take on your kind of viewpoint here, which is yes, I understand the Constitution, essentially. And so that's, I would imagine, why the McClintock-Polis Amendment exists at least in some form. It has not been voted in. So let's just kind of go back to make sure that we understand it from your perspective. All the way back when, how was this conceived?

Tom McClintock: How was the Amendment conceived?

Seth Adler: Indeed.

Tom McClintock: Well, it was the next logical step after the Rohrabacher Amendment on the medical use of marijuana.

Seth Adler: Indeed.

Tom McClintock: And for essentially the same overall principles, and that is that just laws protect us from others. Tyrannical laws try to protect us from ourselves. Bruce Herschensohn -- speaking of tobacco but it's equally applicable to cannabis or a lot of other things the government tries to do -- he once pointed out that for every pleasure in life, there is a concomitant risk, and it's usually the greater the pleasure, the bigger the risk. He went on to say we could, we enough laws and force and regulations and police, we could create a nearly risk-free society, but it would be the most drab, colorless, tedious, awful existence we could possibly devise. I think that the government has an important responsibility to warn people of the adverse effects of marijuana.

Seth Adler: But what are they, as far as you're concerned?

Tom McClintock: Well, for young people there's a clear body of evidence that it affects brain development-

Seth Adler: Under 18.

Tom McClintock: -during adolescence, and we have a very important responsibility to keep marijuana out of the hands of young people. Our marijuana laws have utterly failed to do that, and in fact I think they have made the problem worse.

Seth Adler: The current legal marijuana-

Tom McClintock: Absolutely. A sheriff recently pointed out that if he took two high school students at random, gave them each $20, told one to go out and buy pot and the other one to go out and buy booze, the first one back would always be the one he sent to buy pot because all the kids know where to get it, and the pot dealer's business depends on their breaking the law.

Seth Adler: So are we talking about legal or ...

Tom McClintock: No, I'm talking about where it is illegal ...

Seth Adler: Fair enough.

Tom McClintock: ... where marijuana laws prohibit ... Use a blanket prohibition, you end up creating this thriving underground market. So the high school student that you sent to go out and buy pot is going to know where to get it, and the pot dealer is going to have every incentive to sell it to him because his business depends on breaking the law.

Tom McClintock: The kid you send to buy booze, he's going to go to one liquor store after another, get carded, and get turned away. And the reason for that is because that liquor store's business depends upon obeying the law. So that's how our laws against marijuana use have actually created the adverse effect of making it much easier for young people to get marijuana, and they're the ones we desperately need to keep away from.

Seth Adler: That's exactly it. And oh, by the way, they're not giving us any tax revenue, and worse, they're not testing the cannabis that they're selling. Right?

Tom McClintock: I see those are all very important issues as well, but not nearly as important as two things. Number one, keeping marijuana out of the hands of young people. I think legalization as we've seen with alcohol is a much more effective way of doing it than trying to make it illegal and creating this illicit underground market. And the other issue is the violence that accompanies any underground market. If your business depends upon disobeying the law, it is going to be a very violent marketplace. That's how prohibition of alcohol created the gangster era.

Seth Adler: That's why we know Al Capone's name, essentially.

Tom McClintock: Yeah, yeah. And I'll say one other thing. I don't approve of marijuana use. I've never used it myself. We raised our children successfully never to go near the stuff. But I also don't approve of stamp collecting. It's none of my business if somebody else finds pleasure in doing so. I do think we have, as I said, a responsibility to inform people of the potential dangers of marijuana use, and I will be happy to listen to my government's advice, but I'll be damned if I will take its orders.

Seth Adler: And so that kind of put into focus the question why would you put your name on it if you have no interest in it for yourself or for your family?

Tom McClintock: I believe very firmly that treating marijuana in a regulated, legal environment is a far more effective way of keeping it out of the hands of young people, and I think it is a far more effective way of preventing the crime that we see rampant right now in marijuana cultivation and distribution where it is illegal. We don't have a problem with lettuce growers. We don't have a problem with rice growers. And the only place we have problems with marijuana growth is where we've made it illegal, driven it underground, and created a violent underground economy accompanying that.

Seth Adler: That's exactly it. So we've got the McClintock-Polis Amendment. I know about it, you know about it, many others do. Most folks don't because it's not part of the budget.

Tom McClintock: The problem right now is getting it onto the floor.

Seth Adler: How do we do that?

Tom McClintock: We used to have an open rule on appropriations bills, any amendment could be brought to the floor. That became extremely unwieldy and so now basically the majority party decides what amendments will go to the floor. So we have to take that fight now within the Republican conference and convince a majority that this is something that needs to be heard on the House floor.

Tom McClintock: Dana Rohrbacher's been very insistent upon it and has taken the lead on that issue, and I take my hat off to him, but that's where the debate is right now. But that's really a secondary debate. You know where the real debate is? It's among the American people. Everything that goes on in Washington is just a reflection of that much larger debate that goes on over family dinner tables and backyard fences and coffee ...

Seth Adler: Is it? Because it feels like the American people are way further ahead.

Tom McClintock: That's my point, is they are way further ahead, and it won't be long before that is reflected in the debates in Washington. And I sense that within our own conference, which is probably more resistant to it, they're coming around.

Seth Adler: Okay, so they are coming around, and I've been speaking with other members, and I can feel that. There are many more people that will talk to me now than would speak to me at the beginning of this podcast, for instance. Having said that, if we're in 2018, is it possible, is it feasible to expect that it could be brought to a vote within this year, or is that too soon in your mind based on the conversations that you've had?

Tom McClintock: I would like to see it brought up as soon as possible and as often as possible because, as you point out, public opinion has shifted on this. People have thought the issue through and are beginning to realize that our marijuana laws have just simply done more harm than good. In fact, another argument I hear is, oh well, it ruins young lives, and we've already had part of that discussion over the effect that our anti-marijuana laws have had on actually making it more available to young people. But the other counterbalance we have to ask is how many young lives have been destroyed by a conviction for marijuana possession when they were in college and carrying that albatross around their necks all through their lives. That's a great harm we also need to consider.

Seth Adler: And you've done that through at least state law, expungement with the new cannabis regulations in California.

Tom McClintock: California, Colorado, Oregon. And again, getting back to that metaphor of states being the great laboratories of democracy, we can see the experience in these states and I think it's been generally positive. Yes, for example, from the statistics I've seen you have an increase in driving offenses relating to marijuana use.

Seth Adler: There's conflicting numbers there ...

Tom McClintock: But what I've seen is, that is true, but you've seen a concomitant decline in accidents involving alcohol use, and you've seen an overall decline in fatal accidents involving under the influence driving because apparently if you're under the influence of pot, you tend to drive a lot slower than normal.

Seth Adler: Sure, sure. We could have told you that way back, right?

Tom McClintock: But my point is it's been tried, and I think tried successfully in other states, and certainly the federal government at this stage needs to recognize its Constitutional constraints and not interfere with commerce conducted entirely within the state's boundaries.

Seth Adler: So if I'm listening to this, how can I help Congressman McClintock get this thing to a vote? What should I be doing with my elected officials? What should I be doing with my time? Who should I be talking to? What should I be saying?

Tom McClintock: People are already doing exactly what they need to do, and it's not just to write to their Congressman. It's also to write to the local newspaper, write a blog, write a comment after a story ...

Seth Adler: Anywhere, everywhere.

Tom McClintock: Of course, call your representative, but also call a local talk show and talk about the issue. Certainly visit your legislator, your representative, but also speak up at town hall meetings, wherever it is you can raise the issue. Again, there is a great discussion going on among the American people, and that discussion is going our way. The more we participate in that discussion, the faster it will go our way and the faster it will be reflected in action in Washington, as well in state capitals.

Seth Adler: Understanding that, is it still one person's kind of opinion? Meaning, if Congressman Ryan changes his mind, is it just that easy to get it to a vote?

Tom McClintock: I'd put it a little bit differently than that. The leadership of the conference has to interpret the will of the conference as wanting this measure to come to the floor, and that's a discussion we are continuing to have internally and it is assisted enormously by the discussion that goes on externally. As Everett Dirksen once said, "When they feel the heat, they see the light." And the more heat that can be generated in that public discussion, the more light is going to be seen by representatives.

Seth Adler: So as far as the Republican caucus is concerned, as long as that kind of change continues to happen where kind of opinions get kind of evolved, so to speak, that's how to really ... So it is a slow moving thing.

Tom McClintock: Yes, it is, and sometimes frustratingly slow. But just when it seems the most frustrating, suddenly you reach a tipping point and things change very rapidly. And we've seen that in the states, and I think we're soon to see that at the federal level as well.

Seth Adler: Okay, I appreciate-

Tom McClintock: Again, our marijuana laws have utterly failed to accomplish exactly what they were supposed to accomplish. They have not pacified our society; they've created a violent underground economy. They've not kept pot out of the hands of young people. Quite the contrary, they've made it easier for young people to have access to it. So when after 60, 70, well, more than that 80 years now of laws that have utterly failed to ... Not only have failed to meet their objective, but have accomplished exactly the opposite of what they're supposed to, maybe it's time we reconsidered those laws.

Seth Adler: There we go. Okay. So, reconsidering laws, that's literally your job. Why would you do this to yourself though? I'm kidding, but why would you ... Going back, when you thought to yourself for the first time, "You know what I'm going to do? I'm going to serve my country through running for Congress." And I know that you had initially a more local career. Why serve to begin with? What was it?

Tom McClintock: Because I believe that the principles of the American founding are the, as a practical matter, the best way to create the happiest and most prosperous society that mankind is capable of achieving. And it's the happiness of a society, the right to make your own decisions as you go through life, take responsibility for those decisions with a minimum of governmental interference and intrusion, that's what creates a happy society. That's what creates a prosperous society.

Tom McClintock: The principles of the American Constitution are the pinnacle of achieving such a civilization. The closer we hew to them, the more prosperous and happy our society becomes. The farther we drift from them, the less prosperous and less happy our country becomes. And don't forget, if our marijuana laws were in force at the American founding, both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington would be in federal prison right now because they grew the stuff as hemp for rope, canvas, and a variety of other uses.

Seth Adler: That's it. That's exactly right, and we might not have electricity because rumor has it the string, the kite string that Ben Franklin used, was hemp string.

Tom McClintock: It probably was. There you go.

Seth Adler: So that's what brings you here. And I spoke to fellow Congressman from California, Ro Khanna, and you surprisingly sound like each other when speaking of the Constitution and of the American people. I'm looking at you; you have maybe a couple of years on me age wise.

Tom McClintock: Probably more than a couple, but we don't need to go into math.

Seth Adler: That's fair. What I'm getting at is when I was ... Tip O'Neil, Ronald Reagan days of bi-partisanship, and this was a functioning government for those who don't remember; we were just getting stuff done, we were just doing stuff. Maybe everybody didn't agree on every last thing, but we got stuff done. In your opinion, where did it fall down, and what's the solution to getting it back going?

Tom McClintock: I think it fell down as we abandoned the principles of the American Constitution.

Seth Adler: Such as?

Tom McClintock: Such as what we've just been talking about, the restraints on federal interference with the commerce that's conducted entirely within the states. I wish we could get back to those confines again. This is the reason that we have the problem with cannabis today, is because the federal government has interfered in what is entirely commerce conducted within the state boundaries.

Tom McClintock: I wish we could get back to that in a lot of other fields as well. We talk about the right of people to make their own decisions; assess the risks and then make their own decisions in their lives, and then take responsibility for those decisions. Well, that's true of a lot of other things, too, including tobacco consumption. I don't smoke, but once we've warned people of the ramifications of smoking, it's up to them to decide for themselves whether the risk outweighs the pleasures or vice versa.

Seth Adler: And I've said on record here that if you're going to eat Tide Pods, we might not need you anyway. You know what I mean?

Tom McClintock: I don't know what a Tide Pod is, but okay.

Seth Adler: Oh no, the Tide Pods. You haven't heard about this, the laundry detergent?

Tom McClintock: No, no, no.

Seth Adler: There's people that are ...

Tom McClintock: I've got to get out more, I guess.

Seth Adler: Exactly. People over the age of 18 are eating Tide Pods, eating laundry detergent just to see what happens. And yeah, this is an issue.

Tom McClintock: I imagine you'd throw up.

Seth Adler: Or worse, you could die. And what my point is, is come on, if you're eating laundry detergent, do we really need you here is my point.

Tom McClintock: Again, I think we have a responsibility, A, to keep it out of the hands of young people, and B, to inform people what the risks are.

Seth Adler: Absolutely.

Tom McClintock: But if they're a grown-up adult responsible for their own lives, they're quite capable of making those decisions for themselves.

Seth Adler: Absolutely.

Tom McClintock: And as I referred to earlier, Bruce Herschensohn was right. You want to take all the risk out of society, you can, but it will be a very boring place.

Seth Adler: That's it. Again, though, if Ro Khanna and Tom McClintock sound the same, if you go and look at everything about the two, not much similarity there as far as positions. What I'm getting at is how can we really kind of start working again here in the capitol? How can we kind of get more stuff done so that the American people kind of find faith in the institution again?

Tom McClintock: Again, once we restore confidence and acceptance of those American founding principles of individual liberty, Constitutionally limited government, personal responsibility, well then we have a foundation of consensus on a wide range of issues, and maybe cannabis is a way we can get back to that consensus.

Seth Adler: I see. So essentially, take those tent pole thoughts, find issues within there that we can all agree on, and we should be fine. Okay. I'm alright with that. Let me ask you a question about ... Where are you on guns?

Tom McClintock: I believe that people have a right to defend themselves. Our Constitution protects that right.

Seth Adler: And so, I'm with you, too, because any amendment that you've got in the Constitution, I'm good with. This forced reciprocity across state lines, where are you with that?

Tom McClintock: Reciprocity? That's a fundamental tenent of federalism. The Constitution says that states need to give full faith and credit to the acts of other states. That's why your marriage in one state is recognized in another. That's why your driver's license issued by one state is recognized in all states, and so should be the same as your concealed weapons permit. If issued by one state, it should be recognized by all. That's giving full faith and credit, which is the glue that holds our federal union together.

Seth Adler: Wouldn't that then be the same thing with cannabis? Because California's got these laws, I need to respect them in Nebraska.

Tom McClintock: Good point.

Seth Adler: Right?

Tom McClintock: I haven't given that a lot of though. I'll have to.

Seth Adler: There we go. I'd look forward to talking to you more about that.

Tom McClintock: Good, good.

Seth Adler: Because I see these two as the same thing. You want to own a gun, you want to marry a guy? Whatever you want to do. Have you ever seen the film McLintock! With an exclamation point? I know there's not the extra C, with John Wayne.

Tom McClintock: I'm afraid I saw it when it came out.

Seth Adler: There you go. He's a Californian, John Wayne, right?

Tom McClintock: Yes.

Seth Adler: All right. So I've got three final questions for you. I'll tell you what they are, I'll ask you them in order.

Tom McClintock: Okay.

Seth Adler: What's most surprised you in cannabis? What's 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's has most surprised you in cannabis? You might have already spoken to this.

Tom McClintock: I think the legal growers that I've met who've since California legalized, you've had a number of people come into the business and they are the most respectable, law-abiding, decent folks I've run into anywhere. Which is, again, I think one of the purposes of legalization is to get the business out of the hands of the criminals and gangs and put them into the hands of responsible citizens. And that's what I've observed is happening in California with these laws, and that's very important.

Seth Adler: There you go. What's most surprised you in life?

Tom McClintock: Surprised me in life? How fast it goes by.

Seth Adler: What I've noticed, and again you've got only a couple of years on me, but I've noticed it's getting faster, is what I've noticed. And it keeps getting faster, is what I should expect?

Tom McClintock: I have a friend who compares it to a roll of toilet paper; the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes.

Seth Adler: There's more to be said there, I'm sure. Right? [crosstalk 00:24:22]

Tom McClintock: Probably best not to say.

Seth Adler: Agreed, agreed. On the soundtrack of your life, one track, one song that's got to be on there?

Tom McClintock: Oh gosh, I don't know. I'd have to ... Drawing a blank on that one [inaudible 00:24:35]

Seth Adler: Well, if you were a kid ... So what McClintock, just to take that, what came out in what would it have been, '60? Right? 1960-ish? Okay. So you remember the Beatles getting here, but you would have been doing stuff before. So maybe there might be Jerry Lee Lewis hidden in you.

Tom McClintock: Well, probably Thanks For The Memories, but I'm not over having memories yet.

Seth Adler: That's it. We'll do that when the time comes. How about that?

Tom McClintock: Yeah, exactly. There you go.

Seth Adler: Congressman McClintock, thank you so much for your time.

Tom McClintock: My pleasure. Thank you for yours.

Seth Adler: And there you have U.S. Congressman Tom McClintock. Got him thinking there on the reciprocity issue, so we will check back in with him and see what happens. Very much appreciate his time, very much appreciate yours. Stay tuned.

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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.