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Ep.355: US Congresswoman Dina Titus

Cannabis Economy Podcast
Ep.355: US Congresswoman Dina Titus

Ep.355: US Congresswoman Dina Titus

Cannabis Caucus member US Congresswoman Dina Titus joins us and gives us her thoughts on cannabis in Nevada which has already generated $30M for the state. She also shares what’s happening with cannabis within the walls of congress specifically in committee, “when you go to the Rule’s Committee, that’s where you offer these amendments, and they just didn’t even hear it or didn’t even add it.” That surprises Representative Titus based on how many issues cross through cannabis, “you talk about taxes, talk about banking, VA use, persecution, Native Americans…” And back home in Nevada, she notes, “if you have a crazy idea in the morning, by afternoon you’ll have a lot of people go along with you. So we need to be sure those privacy rights stay in place.”

Transcript:

Seth Adler: Are you from Madrid?

Dina Titus: No, but I've spent a lot of time there. My husband's a Latin American historian, and he's taught in Madrid, taught in Latin America.

Seth Adler: Look at that. That is not a city I've been to. I've been to Barthelona.

Dina Titus: Ah, yes.

Seth Adler: Not yet Madrid, but I am a big fan of Spanish wines.

Dina Titus: Oh, Rioja.

Seth Adler: Oh, sure. Exactly. Ribera del Duero.

Dina Titus: Oh, listen to you.

Seth Adler: Yeah, a little bit of a backbone is what I like, which is I guess what we need for the cannabis industry. Right?

Dina Titus: No question.

Seth Adler: Yeah. So I want to kind of start there, which is way back when in the beginning of January. It's only a couple months. It feels like about a year. But cannabis years are dog years. I don't know if you have heard that phrase. When Attorney General Sessions receded the coal and Ogden memos, what was your initial personal reaction? Because I've read your letter, which we'll get to, but your personal reaction when that happened.

Dina Titus: Well, it concerned be greatly because this is a big part of my constituency. In District One in Las Vegas, we have more distributors, stores, growers than in any part of the state, and it just created uncertainty. We've been working so hard and we had made some progress. Then to have that ripped away was just very disheartening.

Seth Adler: Yeah. Cannabis businesses do need certainty too, don't they?

Dina Titus: Well, they do. It's not your little head shop on the corner with the check and viral poster. These are real businesses. They employ a lot of people. They invest a lot of money in security and in chemistry and in food production, all of those things, and they won't do that if they don't have some certainty.

Seth Adler: There we go. We're talking about jobs, of course, right?

Dina Titus: Exactly. That's created a number of jobs in my district and generated a lot of tax revenue.

Seth Adler: Yeah. Which we'll get to. Let's chronologically go forward before we come back. After that, couple weeks later, you signed on to Congressmen Polis's de-schedule bill.

Dina Titus: Well, that's right. I'm a member of the Cannabis Caucus. I'm kind of the Cannabis Queen here because of things that have happened in Las Vegas, and there's a hardcore of about a half a dozen of us. Jared is one of them. We've sent a lot of letters. We've done amendments to appropriations bill, and this is legislation that I support. I was the first member of the Nevada delegation to do this. We know about regulation in Nevada. We've regulated gaming so we know how it can work. So I was pleased to do it. I'm not sure that bill is going to move in this Congress, but it's never too early to start talking about it.

Seth Adler: So just speaking generally about movement in Congress, and let's take that bill as an example. I'm hearing ... I've been speaking to your colleagues and I'm hearing a number of different kind of points of view on how we can get stuff done. One of the themes that I'm hearing is that there's a block from leadership specifically to put legislation like this up for a vote.

Dina Titus: Well, I think that's probably true. I think Ryan is probably supporting Sessions, and so they won't bring it up for a vote. We've even had some of that occur with amendments that have passed before that now aren't being brought up for a vote.

Seth Adler: Let's dive in there. So you're talking about Rohrabacher-Blumenauer, which was voted on and is part of the appropriations budget, at least for the time being.

Dina Titus: Until March 23rd.

Seth Adler: Right. What happened there? There was a little bit of chicanery this time, yes?

Dina Titus: Well, when you go to the Rule's Committee, that's where you offer these amendments, and they just didn't even hear it or didn't even add it. I think it's in support of Sessions, but if there were an opportunity to vote for it, I believe it would pass because we've reached a tipping point. More and more states now have medical marijuana and are getting social use marijuana. This is bipartisan so I believe it would pass.

Seth Adler: Yeah. No, it certainly would as far as the American people are concerned, right?

Dina Titus: That's right. Public opinion is very much in favor of this.

Seth Adler: You've kind of referenced the other amendment, the McClintock-Polis Amendment, and I find it interesting that Congressmen Polis felt the need to put forward a bill, the de-schedule bill, when we already have that amendment as something that we could add to the appropriations.

Dina Titus: Well, we're fighting this on all fronts, and that's what you have to do. We're arguing it in different ways depending on who you're talking to. There's some people, Republicans, who see this as a business so you make the economic argument. Some people see it as state's rights so you make that argument. Some people think it's a criminal justice issue, some people just want to get stoned. You play to your audience, and we attack it on all fronts. We attack it with letters to the administration, with amendments, if we can, with bills. So I think that's ... If you look at the topics that are being addressed, they're also separate. You talk about taxes, talking about banking, VA use, just not having prosecute, persecution or prosecution. So there are a lot of different ... Native Americans, there are a lot of different fronts to fight on.

Seth Adler: Are you from Madrid?

Dina Titus: No, but I've spent a lot of time there. My husband's a Latin American historian, and he's taught in Madrid, taught in Latin America.

Seth Adler: Look at that. That is not a city I've been to. I've been to Barthelona.

Dina Titus: Ah, yes.

Seth Adler: Not yet Madrid, but I am a big fan of Spanish wines.

Dina Titus: Oh, Rioja.

Seth Adler: Oh, sure. Exactly. Ribera del Duero.

Dina Titus: Oh, listen to you.

Seth Adler: Yeah, a little bit of a backbone is what I like, which is I guess what we need for the cannabis industry. Right?

Dina Titus: No question.

Seth Adler: Yeah. So I want to kind of start there, which is way back when in the beginning of January. It's only a couple months. It feels like about a year. But cannabis years are dog years. I don't know if you have heard that phrase. When Attorney General Sessions receded the coal and Ogden memos, what was your initial personal reaction? Because I've read your letter, which we'll get to, but your personal reaction when that happened.

Dina Titus: Well, it concerned be greatly because this is a big part of my constituency. In District One in Las Vegas, we have more distributors, stores, growers than in any part of the state, and it just created uncertainty. We've been working so hard and we had made some progress. Then to have that ripped away was just very disheartening.

Seth Adler: Yeah. Cannabis businesses do need certainty too, don't they?

Dina Titus: Well, they do. It's not your little head shop on the corner with the check and viral poster. These are real businesses. They employ a lot of people. They invest a lot of money in security and in chemistry and in food production, all of those things, and they won't do that if they don't have some certainty.

Seth Adler: There we go. We're talking about jobs, of course, right?

Dina Titus: Exactly. That's created a number of jobs in my district and generated a lot of tax revenue.

Seth Adler: Yeah. Which we'll get to. Let's chronologically go forward before we come back. After that, couple weeks later, you signed on to Congressmen Polis's de-schedule bill.

Dina Titus: Well, that's right. I'm a member of the Cannabis Caucus. I'm kind of the Cannabis Queen here because of things that have happened in Las Vegas, and there's a hardcore of about a half a dozen of us. Jared is one of them. We've sent a lot of letters. We've done amendments to appropriations bill, and this is legislation that I support. I was the first member of the Nevada delegation to do this. We know about regulation in Nevada. We've regulated gaming so we know how it can work. So I was pleased to do it. I'm not sure that bill is going to move in this Congress, but it's never too early to start talking about it.

Seth Adler: So just speaking generally about movement in Congress, and let's take that bill as an example. I'm hearing ... I've been speaking to your colleagues and I'm hearing a number of different kind of points of view on how we can get stuff done. One of the themes that I'm hearing is that there's a block from leadership specifically to put legislation like this up for a vote.

Dina Titus: Well, I think that's probably true. I think Ryan is probably supporting Sessions, and so they won't bring it up for a vote. We've even had some of that occur with amendments that have passed before that now aren't being brought up for a vote.

Seth Adler: Let's dive in there. So you're talking about Rohrabacher-Blumenauer, which was voted on and is part of the appropriations budget, at least for the time being.

Dina Titus: Until March 23rd.

Seth Adler: Right. What happened there? There was a little bit of chicanery this time, yes?

Dina Titus: Well, when you go to the Rule's Committee, that's where you offer these amendments, and they just didn't even hear it or didn't even add it. I think it's in support of Sessions, but if there were an opportunity to vote for it, I believe it would pass because we've reached a tipping point. More and more states now have medical marijuana and are getting social use marijuana. This is bipartisan so I believe it would pass.

Seth Adler: Yeah. No, it certainly would as far as the American people are concerned, right?

Dina Titus: That's right. Public opinion is very much in favor of this.

Seth Adler: You've kind of referenced the other amendment, the McClintock-Polis Amendment, and I find it interesting that Congressmen Polis felt the need to put forward a bill, the de-schedule bill, when we already have that amendment as something that we could add to the appropriations.

Dina Titus: Well, we're fighting this on all fronts, and that's what you have to do. We're arguing it in different ways depending on who you're talking to. There's some people, Republicans, who see this as a business so you make the economic argument. Some people see it as state's rights so you make that argument. Some people think it's a criminal justice issue, some people just want to get stoned. You play to your audience, and we attack it on all fronts. We attack it with letters to the administration, with amendments, if we can, with bills. So I think that's ... If you look at the topics that are being addressed, they're also separate. You talk about taxes, talking about banking, VA use, just not having prosecute, persecution or prosecution. So there are a lot of different ... Native Americans, there are a lot of different fronts to fight on.

Seth Adler: There really are. As far as veterans, there's a lot of support there, but that's not the kind of general American populous. So when we're talking about either these amendments or these bills, I'm going to go back to kind of getting something done. You mentioned taxation and finance. As far as 280E is concerned, Congressmen Curbelo brought up the fact that because this was rushed, and now that I say that it might have been someone else. I apologize. But because the budget bill was ... Excuse me.

Dina Titus: The tax bill.

Seth Adler: The tax bill was rushed through, we're going to have to go ahead and amend that as we go here throughout the year. He noted that that is a great place to go ahead and tact on 280E. How realistic is that?

Dina Titus: Well, some of these big bills like the Omnibus and the tax bill become Christmas trees and everybody wants to hang an ornament on it.

Seth Adler: Right.

Dina Titus: I oppose that tax bill, but I'd like to see this amendment as part of the fix because these businesses are willing to pay taxes. They get penalized kind of like double taxed. It's just unfair. If you set up a structure where you can regulate, you know how much is coming in, you can have banking, and then pay taxes, the whole system is regulated, works much better than if you carrying money around in the back of your car in a brown paper bag.

Seth Adler: That's it. It's an effective tax rate of anywhere between 70% and 80%, which means that if you are charging 280E, then only those businesses that can survive in that environment will pay you. There's obviously much larger windfall just waiting for you if you remove 280E.

Dina Titus: Well, that's right. Just take Nevada's tax structure for example. It's about a 15% for a wholesale, and it's generated $30 million, much more than they ever expected. So if you set up a structure that works, here's a source of revenue for you.

Seth Adler: That's it. Let's actually then discuss what's happening in Nevada as far as cannabis is concerned. So $30 million in tax revenue already essentially. Because your program is essentially new, right?

Dina Titus: Very new. We passed this through the initiative process, which is a way it usually happens in states. 12 years before it was ever put in place, and that was just limited to medical marijuana. But once it went in place, then the whole process speeded up. Now we have the recreational use or adult use. We've done it the right way. When this first came up, I went around to California, to Oregon, to Colorado, Arizona to see how they had done it and picked from the best. Nevada's done a good job of that. I think we're kind of a model now for other states.

Seth Adler: Let's go ahead and unpack that. When you say we're a model, what does particularly work well in Nevada?

Dina Titus: Well, I think we've done it kind of in stages. We did it medical first, then we done it now for recreational use. We've limited the licenses to the number of distributors or dispensaries depending on where they're located. We've put in place some things that protect children, and so I think all those are things that are making it work. But like I said, we have good experience with regulating gaming and so this should be a piece of cake.

Seth Adler: Yeah, exactly. Just on the limited licenses, because that is a red flag or maybe a tiny pink flag for some, basically what we're saying there is we need to service the patient count, wherever it is, and we need to have a functioning economy. Can you dive further in on the limiting of licenses and what you sited?

Dina Titus: I think it's a way to start until they really got off the ground so that they wouldn't be overwhelmed. This is a whole new area. So there were a certain number of testing facilities, certain number of dispensaries, certain number of grow houses in different locals, some in Las Vegas, Henderson, North Las Vegas, the county. So it's a growing number, but let's start with a small number so we can get it right.

Seth Adler: All right. But there's no cap for the rest of time. It's just let's make sure this thing functions.

Dina Titus: Yes. You've got to remember, Las Vegas is different from any place else in the world. So we've got to deal with the whole gaming institution and tourists. You've got tourists who want to come and enjoy marijuana or even for medical reasons to get it. We want to be sure that all of that fits together in a secure, safe, and economical way.

Seth Adler: So on the medical side, of course, you've got reciprocity I think is what you might be referencing. On the adult use side, as far as gaming, you've brought it up a few times here. I would imagine it comes up every day in your office.

Dina Titus: It does. Yes.

Seth Adler: What are we talking about as far as the ... Obviously it's a unique business and a unique business model, which you've regulated certainly effectively. What are we getting at there? What are the lessons learned?

Dina Titus: Well, there's several ways where you see gaming and marijuana overlap. The Gaming Control Board has said that you can't have a license to do marijuana and a gaming license. So they're keeping those two things separately. You also have a little bit of a problem because many people come to buy marijuana for recreational use, but they don't have any place they can do it. We don't have clubs yet. You can't smoke it in your room. You can't smoke anything in many hotel rooms. Then you're just out on the street. This is not a good thing. So we got to figure out how to work that out.

Dina Titus: Another area that's a bit of a complication, they're like dram shop laws. If you are served too much alcohol by a bartender and you go out and get in a wreck, where does the liability fall? Well, how will that work with marijuana. Let's say you come in, you're stoned, you want to gamble, you lose your money and then you say, "You shouldn't have let me gamble because I was stoned." Where's the liability? So there's some challenges there.

Seth Adler: Oh, the last one, the liabilities on the person. I mean, come on.

Dina Titus: It should be. Exactly.

Seth Adler: Who knows what they'll say.

Dina Titus: That's right.

Seth Adler: So as far as consumption is concerned, there was consumption passed in Colorado, and there is one business that might be open soon. There's been a little bit of a closed fist as far as Colorado's concerned, and there is not another example of consumption other than in Barcelona. Where are you looking for models or ideas in terms of consumption?

Dina Titus: Well, the tax commission in Nevada controls a lot of this so they're doing some of the regulation. Tick Segerblom, the State Senator, has been the champion of this in the state legislation.

Seth Adler: Of course, we've spoken with Tick.

Dina Titus: They've done a lot of research on how to put this together. So I'm leaving to those best minds.

Seth Adler: Got it.

Dina Titus: I'm working at the federal level to be sure that whatever we do in the state businesses, doctors, patients, customers are all protected.

Seth Adler: Okay. I do want to take this tangent here because I wonder if it'll inform the rest of our conversations. You wrote a book on federal and state relationship. Please take us through kind of the theme of the book and your drive for writing it.

Dina Titus: Well, I'm a college professor by profession and politics as an avocation not a vocation, I guess. But I talked federal state relations, that book is actually edited, but I've done some other work where you look at the relationship between the federal government and the state. Then Nevada gave me fits into that. But also, like Yucca Mountain state being forced to take something that they don't want. The same is true here. This is a big state's rights issue, and that's one of the things that frustrates me, especially from people across the aisle who are always arguing state's rights when it suits them and then not when it's an issue they are opposed to. But if a state makes something legal and allows it within their state under the 10th amendment, the federal government shouldn't be imposing on them. There's enough leeway there where the federal government, if it wants to do it, can step in. If they pass certain amendments or certain legislation, but I don't think they should impose their will and use the say U.S. Attorney to come in a prosecute people or arrest people or shut down businesses.

Seth Adler: Sure, which they can now do because the McClintock-Polis Amendment, which would protect adult use businesses like the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment protects medical marijuana businesses is not in effect.

Dina Titus: Well, when you took that memorandum away, Sessions did, you just leave it right open. So that leaves it to the discretion of whoever is the U.S. Attorney in your state. Some may be looking at other things to do, some may make this a priority, some may be stricter than others. So now it's all up in the air. In Nevada is a problem because we have a new U.S. Attorney, the temporary, we don't know if that person is going to stay or not after six months, who comes from Texas with no experience in this sort of thing. We just don't know what's going to be her position.

Seth Adler: That's it. There are new federal attorneys in San Francisco, in Las Angeles, and it's just ... It's amazing how many new folks who have been put there by the Attorney General are in specifically adult use states. So how much of your mind is taken with the fact that the other shoe might drop here?

Dina Titus: Well, we're worried about it. I hear about it a lot. One of the things about the marijuana industry is that they're becoming much more sophisticated politically. They are hiring lobbyists. They have organizations that are here on The Hill providing good information, watching legislation. So I think that will be helpful. Hopefully, also, Sessions is so busy with other things like Russia that this will not rise to the top of something they spend time and resources going after.

Seth Adler: Well, unfortunately, he's recused himself from that. So he doesn't have to spend any time on it.

Dina Titus: That's true.

Seth Adler: Or does he? Right? I mean ...

Dina Titus: But the Justice Department overall.

Seth Adler: Indeed. Indeed. Just really quick on that, I don't want to get bogged down on the details, but when you are a sitting congressperson and folks come to The Hill that are supposed to be protecting our intellectual property, our elections, our information security, and they say that they have no direction on protecting us in a way that we already have been attacked, what does that make you think?

Dina Titus: Well, I'm a real critic of this administration. That is certainly one of the areas. In Nevada, we are kind of a frontier in many ways. We've done things that a lot of other states don't do, and so that's why we need certain protections whether it's wiretap laws or gaming or even brothels we have in Nevada.

Seth Adler: Sure.

Dina Titus: In Nevada, if you have a crazy idea in the morning, by afternoon you'll have a lot of people go along with you. So we need to be sure those privacy rights stay in place.

Seth Adler: Yeah. Understood on the privacy rights, and I guess the rest of that is a rabbit hole. I've got three final questions for you, which I'll get to in a minute though. As far as 2018 is concerned, at realistically can happen from a federal legislation perspective? What can we kind of gather our voices around and start shouting about? What specifically is it? Is it that amendment? Is it this bill? What is it?

Dina Titus: I think the most we can hope for is to get the Rohrabacher original amendment that's in the continuum resolution now, contingent in the Omnibus through next October.

Seth Adler: So that's not even a sure thing is what we're saying?

Dina Titus: Right. I think that's a challenge. Even so, that is limited to the original few number of states and only medical marijuana, but that's something. So we're still fighting that aside from these other things.

Seth Adler: We're saying that is not a sure thing is what we're saying.

Dina Titus: We have to look at see what they put in the Omnibus, and I do not think we should consider it a sure thing. Mr. Rohrabacher says leadership has assured him that it will go forward, but he trusts leadership more than I do.

Seth Adler: That, I guess, is fair to say, right? All right. So the three final questions, I'll tell you what they are. I'll ask you them in order. 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, it's got to be on there. But first things first, what's most surprised you in cannabis? I mean, do you have a relationship with the plant other than the fact that it is alive and well in your state?

Dina Titus: I'll tell you what surprised me is that the people who are now involved in it in Nevada. These are people who are well respected, who you would never have imagined would be supportive of this industry. Then how quickly it has moved once it has become supported by the money crowd.

Seth Adler: That's interesting because Sheldon Adelson of course put money in against the adult use initiative and did not succeed in doing any damage in Nevada. But he did succeed in doing damage in Arizona. Is there news there as far as that money coming around?

Dina Titus: Well, Sheldon Adelson has his own position on that and a number of things. But I think that sentiment in Nevada is still pretty much wild west and pretty much libertarian.

Seth Adler: Good.

Dina Titus: First you did medical and then this came along afterwards, but it has moved very quickly. I think it's moving quickly across the country.

Seth Adler: Yeah, no. The American people are certainly behind this. There is no doubt about it. It seems like when I speak to your friends on the other side of the aisle, they say that the last people on the wrong side of this are the Republican Caucus and the Attorney General, for the most part. The Republican Caucus for the most part. So you've got Congressman Curbelo.

Dina Titus: You've got some. Yeah.

Seth Adler: You've got Congressman Gates. You've got, obviously, Congressman Rohrabacher and others.

Dina Titus: As more states do this through the initiative process, they're going to have to get on board because they'll see what the revenue sources are, they'll see the business, they'll see the employment. They'll have to be supportive.

Seth Adler: I mean, $30 million is a fair chunk of change, is it not?

Dina Titus: It's much more than they anticipated. Some of this goes to education. That's hard to argue against.

Seth Adler: There you go. All right. So you don't want to educate the kids, I see.

Dina Titus: Right.

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

Dina Titus: Well, perhaps being in the Congress. I grew up in South Georgia. If I'd stayed in Georgia, I don't think I'd be here now. But being in Las Vegas, anything's possible.

Seth Adler: When you said hello to me, I thought to myself, "That does not sound like a Nevada accent."

Dina Titus: Southern Nevada.

Seth Adler: But you are originally from Georgia.

Dina Titus: Yes.

Seth Adler: All right. When did you make your way over to Nevada?

Dina Titus: I went in '77 to teach at UNLV.

Seth Adler: Oh my goodness.

Dina Titus: Out of graduate school.

Seth Adler: There we go. You must remember that UNLV basketball team from what, the '80s, I guess, with Jerry Tarkanian?

Dina Titus: Running Rebels.

Seth Adler: That's it. '77 would have been Elvis would've still be around.

Dina Titus: Well, I've never gotten to see Elvis. I saw Frank Sinatra and some of the others, but I didn't get to see Elvis. I'm a big fan of Blue Suede Shoes.

Seth Adler: There we go. So the whole Rat Pack thing, you did get a chance to see those?

Dina Titus: Some of them I have seen, yeah. We have a picture on our wall here in the office of the Rat Pack.

Seth Adler: Oh, it's right behind me. Oh my God, look at that. You know who's right next to me? Joey Bishop is right there, right?

Dina Titus: Yeah.

Seth Adler: All right. So that brings us very nicely into the soundtrack question. So on the soundtrack of your life, one track, one song that's got to be on there.

Dina Titus: Well, I just told you, Blue Suede Shoes.

Seth Adler: Oh, so we're doing that.

Dina Titus: Well, I like Blue Suede Shoes, but I'm also a fan of Summertime. So I keep it old and classic.

Seth Adler: I gotcha. I like it. Do you know that Carl Perkins wrote Blue Suede Shoes? You know that, right?

Dina Titus: Oh, I did know that. I had forgotten.

Seth Adler: Congressman Titus, thank you so much for your time and just keep going here in the Congress here, yeah?

Dina Titus: Well, we'll keep fighting it. It's very important to my district.

Seth Adler: There you have U.S. Congresswoman Dina Titus. Very much appreciate her time. Very much appreciate your time. 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.