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Ep.352: US Congressman Earl Blumenauer

Cannabis Economy Podcast
Ep.352: US Congressman Earl Blumenauer

Ep.352: US Congressman Earl Blumenauer

US Congressman Earl Blumenauer returns to share the state of the Rohrabacher Blumenauer Amendment as well as his thoughts on the fact that over 20M people have a relationship with cannabis each month. This has led to a shift and hardening of public opinion in support of legalizing the plant. Congressman Blumenauer feels that there is a good chance that there will be movement specifically on 280E as there are so many ‘tax vehicles’ being discussed. And if you’re listening and are a constituent of anyone in house leadership, the Congressman urges you to write, call and go down to that office to share your thoughts.

Transcript:

Seth Adler: There we go. Okay, let's start the conversation with the biggest news this year which is when Attorney General Sessions rescinded the Cole and Ogden Memos before and put in place the now as we know it, the Sessions Memo. What was your personal reaction?

Earl Blumenauer: Well I was appalled because the Cole Memo permitted us to reconcile the, as we've talked before, the rather insane proposition that we have with federal policy regarding cannabis which is hopelessly out of touch with reality. It really doesn't work and has been bypassed by action of people around the country.

Earl Blumenauer: This was an invitation of any one 93 US Attorneys to go off and freelance on their own. It would be unfortunate in terms of people who have come to rely on the very sensible guidance in the Cole Memo. I mean people play by the rules.

Seth Adler: Right.

Earl Blumenauer: And are operating under color of state law. Virtually all of them, as a result of a vote of the people in the most democratic of fashions.

Seth Adler: Indeed.

Earl Blumenauer: It was an important step back, although I will tell you as I quickly reflected upon it, I thought that it might in a curious way be a blessing in disguise. As we've discussed, the American public is galloping ahead on this. I have been unequivocal as I've campaigned around the country the last couple of years that this is a five year proposition, and it's going to be over in five years. Marijuana will be available, the same way that alcohol is, I'm convinced within ... well now it's four years.

Seth Adler: I gotcha.

Earl Blumenauer: Because one already passed. Medical marijuana I think will be virtually universally accepted. The decision of Mr. Sessions to basically pull the pin on this hand grenade, actually, in a perverse way may help just call the question. Because, if he, having pulled the pin decides to disengage the handle.

Seth Adler: Right.

Earl Blumenauer: The resulting explosion I think will resolve this issue in two years, not four or five.

Seth Adler: I see.

Earl Blumenauer: The public is overwhelmingly supportive. We have ... pick a number, eight billion dollars now going to 10, 15, 20 billion.

Seth Adler: In legal cannabis.

Earl Blumenauer: I state legal cannabis.

Seth Adler: Right.

Earl Blumenauer: Over 20 million people use it every month and public opinion has not just shifted, it's hardened. Upwards of two-thirds of American adults support state legal adult efforts. The medical marijuana is off the charts. It's basically a universal value today in the United States. Either way, I think we're going to win on this. If he doesn't do something increasingly crazy and we keep the 93 US Attorneys at bay, we can move forward on the path that we're on. If, however, they decide to up the ante, I think the resulting backlash is going to help us resolve this in the course of the next couple of years.

Seth Adler: Okay, so these 93 attorneys now can do whatever they want. They can't do it for medical cannabis, thanks to the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment. Thank you Congressman Blumenauer, but they certainly can because McClintock-Polis has not been passed. They can certainly go after state legal adult use.

Earl Blumenauer: Yup.

Seth Adler: You think that them going after it will actually just speed the whole thing up.

Earl Blumenauer: Absolutely. I mean there is no question in my mind.

Seth Adler: Now how would that change votes in the ... Let's get to brass tacks. How would that change votes in the Congress? How would we be able to push this over the line, whether it be the McClintock-Polis amendment, whether it be your new Blumenauer-Corbello initiative on 280E.

Earl Blumenauer: Or the legislation that I've introduced along with my friend Ron Wyden in the Senate which is ...

Seth Adler: 777.

Earl Blumenauer: A total comprehensive legislation.

Seth Adler: Totally.

Earl Blumenauer: I think what happens is that we get more ammunition and we get more allies. What we've found is we're able to work with people and talk through the implications of stupid policy.

Seth Adler: Right.

Earl Blumenauer: That state legal cannabis industry is severely constrained in terms of access to banking services. People are shocked that they can't fully deduct their expenses for tax purposes.

Seth Adler: Right.

Earl Blumenauer: Members of Congress have come forward in increasing numbers. We have more allies today than we've ever had, and so if somehow they succeed in stirring up the pot, so to speak, I think it galvanizes more support. I think it mobilizes more public support.

Seth Adler: Sure.

Earl Blumenauer: And I think the industry, which is increasingly sophisticated and focused is going to be doing even better.

Seth Adler: There we go. Okay, let's start the conversation with the biggest news this year which is when Attorney General Sessions rescinded the Cole and Ogden Memos before and put in place the now as we know it, the Sessions Memo. What was your personal reaction?

Earl Blumenauer: Well I was appalled because the Cole Memo permitted us to reconcile the, as we've talked before, the rather insane proposition that we have with federal policy regarding cannabis which is hopelessly out of touch with reality. It really doesn't work and has been bypassed by action of people around the country.

Earl Blumenauer: This was an invitation of any one 93 US Attorneys to go off and freelance on their own. It would be unfortunate in terms of people who have come to rely on the very sensible guidance in the Cole Memo. I mean people play by the rules.

Seth Adler: Right.

Earl Blumenauer: And are operating under color of state law. Virtually all of them, as a result of a vote of the people in the most democratic of fashions.

Seth Adler: Indeed.

Earl Blumenauer: It was an important step back, although I will tell you as I quickly reflected upon it, I thought that it might in a curious way be a blessing in disguise. As we've discussed, the American public is galloping ahead on this. I have been unequivocal as I've campaigned around the country the last couple of years that this is a five year proposition, and it's going to be over in five years. Marijuana will be available, the same way that alcohol is, I'm convinced within ... well now it's four years.

Seth Adler: I gotcha.

Earl Blumenauer: Because one already passed. Medical marijuana I think will be virtually universally accepted. The decision of Mr. Sessions to basically pull the pin on this hand grenade, actually, in a perverse way may help just call the question. Because, if he, having pulled the pin decides to disengage the handle.

Seth Adler: Right.

Earl Blumenauer: The resulting explosion I think will resolve this issue in two years, not four or five.

Seth Adler: I see.

Earl Blumenauer: The public is overwhelmingly supportive. We have ... pick a number, eight billion dollars now going to 10, 15, 20 billion.

Seth Adler: In legal cannabis.

Earl Blumenauer: I state legal cannabis.

Seth Adler: Right.

Earl Blumenauer: Over 20 million people use it every month and public opinion has not just shifted, it's hardened. Upwards of two-thirds of American adults support state legal adult efforts. The medical marijuana is off the charts. It's basically a universal value today in the United States. Either way, I think we're going to win on this. If he doesn't do something increasingly crazy and we keep the 93 US Attorneys at bay, we can move forward on the path that we're on. If, however, they decide to up the ante, I think the resulting backlash is going to help us resolve this in the course of the next couple of years.

Seth Adler: Okay, so these 93 attorneys now can do whatever they want. They can't do it for medical cannabis, thanks to the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment. Thank you Congressman Blumenauer, but they certainly can because McClintock-Polis has not been passed. They can certainly go after state legal adult use.

Earl Blumenauer: Yup.

Seth Adler: You think that them going after it will actually just speed the whole thing up.

Earl Blumenauer: Absolutely. I mean there is no question in my mind.

Seth Adler: Now how would that change votes in the ... Let's get to brass tacks. How would that change votes in the Congress? How would we be able to push this over the line, whether it be the McClintock-Polis amendment, whether it be your new Blumenauer-Corbello initiative on 280E.

Earl Blumenauer: Or the legislation that I've introduced along with my friend Ron Wyden in the Senate which is ...

Seth Adler: 777.

Earl Blumenauer: A total comprehensive legislation.

Seth Adler: Totally.

Earl Blumenauer: I think what happens is that we get more ammunition and we get more allies. What we've found is we're able to work with people and talk through the implications of stupid policy.

Seth Adler: Right.

Earl Blumenauer: That state legal cannabis industry is severely constrained in terms of access to banking services. People are shocked that they can't fully deduct their expenses for tax purposes.

Seth Adler: Right.

Earl Blumenauer: Members of Congress have come forward in increasing numbers. We have more allies today than we've ever had, and so if somehow they succeed in stirring up the pot, so to speak, I think it galvanizes more support. I think it mobilizes more public support.

Seth Adler: Sure.

Earl Blumenauer: And I think the industry, which is increasingly sophisticated and focused is going to be doing even better.

Seth Adler: We'll see how this goes. That was my initial reaction was I noticed that new attorneys had been placed by Attorney General Sessions in San Francisco and Los Angeles, which is somehow central California and there were conversations on other ones. I expected the other shoe to drop very quickly and thankfully it hasn't. Who knows what will happen. Let's say it doesn't. This 280E bill that you have. How do we get that to a vote?

Earl Blumenauer: Well there are a number of different avenues.

Seth Adler: Okay.

Earl Blumenauer: I've been working on this now for four years.

Seth Adler: Right, yes.

Earl Blumenauer: The first time we introduced it, I was joined by Grover Norquist.

Seth Adler: Right.

Earl Blumenauer: The anti-tax activist, Republican major duomo.

Seth Adler: I was going to say left wing nut job?

Earl Blumenauer: And an illustration that this isn't partisan either.

Seth Adler: Right.

Earl Blumenauer: One opportunity is legislation that moves. There's very little standalone legislation that this Congress considers.

Seth Adler: Right.

Earl Blumenauer: But there will be several tax vehicles that will move, and again, having my friend and fellow Oregonian Ron Wyden being the head Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee and who will have his hands on legislation that will be going back and forth in the tax space because this massive, and I think ill considered, tax giveaway is going to demand adjustment. There are lots of problems with it, so there will be things going back and forth and so an Amendment there is not out of the question.

Seth Adler: Is feasible. If you can take me inside baseball, as much inside baseball as you'd like, how is it not part of that initial bill? It seems like such a simple little thing that could have gone in, right?

Earl Blumenauer: Because the Republicans were basically supporting their favored interest.

Seth Adler: And that's it?

Earl Blumenauer: There was no hearing.

Seth Adler: Right.

Earl Blumenauer: We didn't have a chance to give the committee the evidence of bipartisan support for 280E.

Seth Adler: Right.

Earl Blumenauer: We didn't have a chance to talk about the inequity of 280E and the fact that in a perverse way, it's probably costing the federal government revenue.

Seth Adler: Right.

Earl Blumenauer: Because people just are not, shall we say, robustly following the law. They're waiting for something to happen, or they're working around it.

Seth Adler: Or not getting into the industry because of it.

Earl Blumenauer: That is having a depressing effect I think on the future of the industry.

Seth Adler: Right, yeah.

Earl Blumenauer: But we didn't have a chance. That was not considered. There was no hearings, jammed through. People had no idea actually what was in that bill until after it passed.

Seth Adler: Right, yeah.

Earl Blumenauer: And they're still finding out, but that's ...

Speaker 2: Passed, and they're still finding out. But, that said, part of the price for how ill-considered it was is that they have to revisit it-

Speaker 3: Now, we've got to come back.

Speaker 2: ... throughout this year and probably into the next.

Speaker 3: Okay. That makes me think that there's a very real chance that we could get 280E this year.

Speaker 2: There are opportunities. I don't bet on this congress. I've been doing this work for a long time as you know. There's nothing predictable. It is increasingly done on the margins, lots of special interest legislation, lots of things that are outside the normal committee operation. If we actually had hearings that we work together on a bipartisan basis, Carlos and I could get-

Speaker 3: A ton done.

Speaker 2: ... an hour, an hour and a half to actually have consideration before one of the subcommittees, this thing could move forward. But, the leadership in the house has not been favorable to cannabis. They backed yanking out in the last congress my veteran's access provision. This congress, they wouldn't even permit a straight consideration of Rohrabacher–Blumenauer in the ordinary consideration.

Speaker 3: Dive in there. How close were we to not getting Rohrabacher–Blumenauer this time?

Speaker 2: Well, I think we were always in pretty strong position because we have more support than ever before, because it has been embedded for several years into the continuing resolutions that have helped this thing move forward, and it's been in the senate version. Senate version, it's in the existing underlying base, we have more house support than ever before. I think we were always in very good shape. But what is frustrating is that we lost an opportunity to be able to raise the profile, to be able to get more people involved, to continue the momentum towards ultimate reform.

Speaker 3: It sounds like that potentially was purposeful.

Speaker 2: I am hard pressed to think that it wasn't.

Speaker 3: Okay. What are we missing as far as the leadership is concerned, in terms of messaging, in terms of phone calls, in terms of dropping by those offices? What can we do, we the people, to nudge the leadership to at least see the backend of the public's opinion?

Speaker 2: It's pretty simple. Number one, people who have an interest in rational cannabis policy should take advantage of making that point wherever they can. Anybody who lives in Wisconsin ought to make that intention known, particularly if they live in the district of Paul Ryan, who travels the country on behalf of select candidates. That's another avenue that people can be involved, raise this at public events, at fundraising events, asking why there is not access to banking, why that we have this inappropriate unfair taxation. The people who are engaged in state legal cannabis businesses need to continue pounding away especially on their republican representatives. We have almost 100% of the democrats. We have probably three dozen pretty good supporters of cannabis legislation among the republicans. But that number is growing. They may not have been our allies in Colorado or in Washington State or California, but all of a sudden, they're representing lots of people where there are state legal marijuana enterprises.

Speaker 3: When you see Cory Gardner on the senate floor yelling and screaming about how the fact that he did not support this, but it is state law and he was going to do something about. This is a republican, and not moderate republican, who's really or maybe is.

Speaker 2: Let's be honest here, and I appreciate what Cory Gardner did. But he has not been a friend of cannabis, didn't support the stuff in the state of Colorado.

Speaker 3: This is my point, yeah.

Speaker 2: But, the ground has shifted under him the same way that there will never be another anti-cannabis president of the United States. There won't be. There's much too strong a constituency.

Speaker 3: What do you call this one if this is what his attorney general is doing?

Speaker 2: We have no idea what Donald Trump believes. Anybody can go on YouTube and watch Donald Trump state unequivocally that people in Colorado can maintain their program, voters decided it. He thought that that was the way to go. He wasn't going to interfere. I don't know what Donald Trump believes. I am quite confident that he didn't clear this with Jeff Sessions-

Speaker 3: Or the other way around.

Speaker 2: Or Jeff Sessions [crosstalk 00:16:50] with him. I think it was on his own. But there's extensive research. In fact, one republican poll star recently produced results of the attitude of Trump voters. Trump voters are with us. Trump voters are-

Speaker 3: More so than traditional republicans.

Speaker 2: Absolutely. You look at [inaudible 00:17:14] coming up in 2020. If he doesn't fight to protect a state legal activity that the people in his state voted for and that his fellow republicans undercut, in a competitive race, I think he would lose. This is an issue that moves people in Colorado.

Speaker 3: Good policy became good politics for him, essentially.

Speaker 2: I think it was essential politics. More people are looking at it this way. Some of them sincerely believe that they should support this, some of them are evolving. For some, it is just a case of this is the reality we need to follow through on, or, alternatively, as I say, some people, if they don't, are going to suffer the consequences at the ballot box.

Speaker 3: Yeah. Do you see that actually happening in the midterms for 2018?

Speaker 2: Well, in my spare time, I'm trying to get you a better congress. One of the ways I'm trying to do that is making this an issue. For all the candidates that I'm helping, I provided material to them to help explain the issue, how to talk about the issue, what the key things that people care about, and-

Speaker 3: Take us through it so that we know, so that when we hear our congress, men or women that we're voting for, we can recognize the language that you're providing.

Speaker 2: First and foremost, we want to make sure that they support the right of people to determine what they want. That the will of the voter should be respected, should not be undercut, and it frankly doesn't matter whether they believe in adult use of cannabis or not. The point is respect for the political process and what the voters have decided. Because, even more than the number of people who believe in state legal adult use, which is now about two thirds, if the question is regardless of how you feel should the federal government interfere with what local voters have decided? It's like three to one.

Speaker 3: Of course. It would have to be. If you're an American, that's just American-

Speaker 2: Well, it's going to be rush here because some of this is influx as we know. But I do think that this is a fundamental value. I think it's a fundamental value. This is one of the things that we are saying, and we're encouraging people to be open and expressive about their support for state legal marijuana, certainly medical marijuana, our veterans' access. We're talking about specific bills. We're making clear that for the industry today, however, it's respect for what has happened, and it is allowing them to pay fair taxes with a check. That's not controversial. Again, they don't have to support legalization. I think they should. But every one of them should say these people deserve to be able to deduct their business expenses, they deserve to pay those taxes with a check.

Speaker 3: When you boil it down like that, how could someone be against those points? This has nothing to do with red or blue, you're talking about allow a business to be able to run itself. That's the ledge you're out on there.

Speaker 2: You're right. It shouldn't be controversial. Part of the problem is we have the lingering after effects of the misguided and failed war on drugs. There are some people that are just myopic, that mistake cause and effect. Part of it is in the midst of the opioid epidemic where people really are dying.

Speaker 3: Actually, this time.

Speaker 2: Actually dying. They get mixed up that they're a gateway drug. Well, no.

Speaker 3: Now has been proven.

Speaker 2: What we have is illegal cannabis dealers are gateway drug dealers. That's how things happen. But a state legal, regulated, taxed, is the first line of defense. In fact, there's persuasive evidence that where there is access, for instance, to medical marijuana.

Earl Blumenauer: ... that where there is access, for instance, to medical marijuana, there's less dependence on opioids and fewer opioids overdoses. But your point, I think, is an important one. It is just foolish that people have reluctance to look. But I think it's the confusion about opioids, the lingering apprehension about the war on drugs. There are some people that really don't believe the evidence, that are convinced that it is killer weed. That it does kill people despite the absolute absence of any evidence.

Speaker 4: What do we do now on either side of the aisle, on any point of the political spectrum, with folks that are just putting their head in the sand and not able to listen or work with anyone else?

Earl Blumenauer: I don't spend any time on those people.

Speaker 4: Okay. Just ignore them. Keep going forward.

Earl Blumenauer: What I do is focus on getting good people elected, working against people who are undercutting us. There are some that do that.

Speaker 4: Right.

Earl Blumenauer: And deal with the public because momentum is on our side. We're expanding the circle of people who understand and are supportive. The next congress will be even more supportive of cannabis than this congress, which was more supportive than the previous congress.

Speaker 4: Going in the right direction that way.

Earl Blumenauer: We're going in a trend line here that in the course of one or two more elections, it's game over.

Speaker 4: So that's a longer period of time. And I know you said you don't want to prognosticate. But should I feel confident about 2018 as far as [2AD 00:23:59]? Or would you say we all still have work to do to make sure that this has to be-

Earl Blumenauer: Until it's done, we have work to do.

Speaker 4: Got it.

Earl Blumenauer: The elements are arrayed. We've got the arguments on our side. We have more support than we've ever had.

Speaker 4: Right.

Earl Blumenauer: We are in a position where there are different things that could happen with bipartisan legislation or other vehicles.

Speaker 4: Which in itself is a different position than we've ever been in.

Earl Blumenauer: We are in a stronger position with options and with allies. But these things are never over until they're over.

Speaker 4: Right. Thank you, yogi. Right?

Earl Blumenauer: You know, what can I say? And things that go on around here mystify me. Things that you would think ought to be simple common sense, let's just do it, get all spun up in personalities and partisan.

Speaker 4: How much of that though is ending with this new breed? We brought up Congressman Curbelo. I spoke to Congressman Khanna as well. And they don't feel ... They feel like they're just here to kind of get stuff done. Let's stop this ridiculousness and go. Are you feeling that with the younger members? Or not necessarily?

Earl Blumenauer: Some members manifest that characteristic. There are some new members who are as high bound as some people who've been here seemingly for centuries. It's very individualistic. But there are increasing numbers of people who understand the issue, who are supportive, who if they don't fully embrace reform, they at least fully embrace the fact these are realities now. And that it makes sense from a policy and a political perspective. And I don't see that trend reversing. I think it strengthens.

Speaker 4: All right. Fantastic! So we're in a better place than we were last time we spoke. And with that, I've got the three final questions for returning guests, Congressman. And I'll tell you what they are and ask them in order. What would you change about yourself if anything? It might be something you're already working on. What would you change about anything else if you could? And on the soundtrack of your life, one track, one song that's got to be on there? That's always the last question. So first question first. What would you change about yourself if anything? Might be something you're already working on. And I know that you're out on the bicycle often. We know that. So you're getting exercise.

Earl Blumenauer: I think in retrospect, it would be very helpful if I were able to narrow down the issues we're involved with. I mean, the work we've been doing on cannabis is very rewarding. The work we're doing on reforming the farm bill. We have nuclear weapons, health. I mean, the portfolio of things that concern the people I represent and should be on the agenda, gun violence and bicycles. And I wish that I were a little more focused. Not that these other things aren't important. I understand why I do it. But I think I would be a little more effective and my life would be less chaotic if there were fewer front burner issues.

Speaker 4: I've got you. That's fair. That's an honest answer. As far as the farm bill is concerned, how are we doing on making industrial hemp the next great manufacturing industry here in the United States of America?

Earl Blumenauer: Well, as you know, we had some success in the last farm bill.

Speaker 4: Yes.

Earl Blumenauer: Opening up the research. I met today with several groups dealing with the farm bill. And this is something that we bring up in terms of getting them to mobilize so that we have a farm bill that reflects the reality and the opportunity of an emerging hemp industry. It is unbelievable to I'm sure Thomas Jefferson and George Washington who would be spinning in their grave if they knew that what they harvested on their plantations-

Speaker 4: And wrote about, by the way.

Earl Blumenauer: And wrote on, that it was somehow illegal in this country. That would be incomprehensible to them. So I think we are getting more and more support for that.

Speaker 4: All right. What would you change about anything else if you could? You can now bend the space/time continuum. You can be all powerful. What would you change about anything else if you could?

Earl Blumenauer: Well, around here I would like people to allow the process to work.

Speaker 4: Yeah, let's just do the work that we have in front of us.

Earl Blumenauer: We have been stymied from being able to allow advocates to come in and make the case for things that are important for the general public, whether it is gun violence or cannabis or health. There are so many things that are not that hard. And if we actually were having hearings, inviting in witnesses, that we allowed people to debate and amend, it would make a huge difference. And this isn't rocket science. This isn't anything that's going to upset the apple cart in [inaudible 00:29:39] of republican and democratic politics. It just will allow the system to work. And I think many people feel that what they studied in high school civics is how it works. And it doesn't.

Speaker 4: Yeah, it's not working that way now. But we're working on making it work better with newly elected officials is what I'm hearing. On the soundtrack of your life, one track, one song that's got to be on there?

Earl Blumenauer: Today it would be Bridge Over Troubled Waters.

Speaker 4: Oh, look at you. See? This is the perfect song from congressman Blumenauer. I very much appreciate your time. Thank you as always. Thank you for fighting the fight and please keep doing it.

Earl Blumenauer: You bet.

Speaker 4: And there you have Congressman Earl Blumenauer. Very much appreciate his time as always. 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.