Ep. 396: Congressman Earl Blumenauer

Cannabis Economy Podcast
Ep. 396: Congressman Earl Blumenauer

Ep. 396: Congressman Earl Blumenauer

US Congressman Earl Blumenauer returns to share thoughts on a new paradigm for Legal Cannabis: “Progress in the house is going to promote action in the senate. Things that pass, the administration- particularly now that Sessions is gone (both Jeff and Pete)- will sign. And it’s a great run-up to the 2020 election. There will never be another successful anti-cannabis candidate for president again.” 

Transcript:

Speaker 1: Congressman Blumenauer, thank you so much for sitting down for a third time. It does seem like this time is different for a number of reasons. Podcast line knows no time, yesterday the farm bill passed. We have a new Congress coming in in just a few weeks. On the farm bill, what are your thoughts?

Blumenauer: Well, it represents a missed opportunity to be able to deal with the larger issues facing America and farmers, and the public, dealing with nutrition, dealing with being able to protect threatened agricultural communities, dealing with extreme weather events, Trump tariffs, we still pay too much to the wrong people to grow the wrong food, the wrong ways. But, this is an area, as you know, we have been working for over a dozen years to try and make a better farm bill. And I spent a lot of time traveling around the country working on that the last two or three years, three years actually.

Blumenauer: And there are a number of provisions in there that I'm pleased with, not the least of which is hemp. As you know, that was one of our battles in the last farm bill, and we got this little provision, a little toe hold, that some took advantage of, and signaled that we could move forward. It was one of a number of votes that were successful in the last Congress before the Republicans essentially decided they were gonna shut us out.

Blumenauer: The farm bill was such that they couldn't prevent it, and that was an area that actually had interesting breadth of support. We've always had support in Kentucky because they understand that they've gotta do something to transition tobacco farmers into sustainable profitable crop, and hemp is a natural.

Speaker 1: And they have done that. There's tremendous hemp farms in Kentucky.

Blumenauer: They're are moving, which given the structure of the Senate leadership, that helps a little bit.

Speaker 1: Indeed.

Blumenauer: But we've also had strong support for my friend and colleague, Ron Widen, on the Senate Finance Committee, and in the House, we've had a number of successful votes promoting hemp, so it was teed up and ready to go. And this is going to, I think, serve to accelerate that progress.

Speaker 1: Yeah, and what is, I guess most interesting to me is the fact that we went ahead and took hemp, .3% and below, off of the Controlled Substances Act. That verbiage is important. We just kind of, not kind of, we actually just removed it. It's just that easy, isn't it?

Blumenauer: Well, it should be. And we've had conversations before about this. And actually if the Republican leadership had allowed the legislative process to work, we could have made more progress this time because we had more people in Congress who understand the failed prohibition of marijuana is a tragic mistake.

Speaker 1: Congressman Blumenauer, thank you so much for sitting down for a third time. It does seem like this time is different for a number of reasons. Podcast line knows no time, yesterday the farm bill passed. We have a new Congress coming in in just a few weeks. On the farm bill, what are your thoughts?

Blumenauer: Well, it represents a missed opportunity to be able to deal with the larger issues facing America and farmers, and the public, dealing with nutrition, dealing with being able to protect threatened agricultural communities, dealing with extreme weather events, Trump tariffs, we still pay too much to the wrong people to grow the wrong food, the wrong ways. But, this is an area, as you know, we have been working for over a dozen years to try and make a better farm bill. And I spent a lot of time traveling around the country working on that the last two or three years, three years actually.

Blumenauer: And there are a number of provisions in there that I'm pleased with, not the least of which is hemp. As you know, that was one of our battles in the last farm bill, and we got this little provision, a little toe hold, that some took advantage of, and signaled that we could move forward. It was one of a number of votes that were successful in the last Congress before the Republicans essentially decided they were gonna shut us out.

Blumenauer: The farm bill was such that they couldn't prevent it, and that was an area that actually had interesting breadth of support. We've always had support in Kentucky because they understand that they've gotta do something to transition tobacco farmers into sustainable profitable crop, and hemp is a natural.

Speaker 1: And they have done that. There's tremendous hemp farms in Kentucky.

Blumenauer: They're are moving, which given the structure of the Senate leadership, that helps a little bit.

Speaker 1: Indeed.

Blumenauer: But we've also had strong support for my friend and colleague, Ron Widen, on the Senate Finance Committee, and in the House, we've had a number of successful votes promoting hemp, so it was teed up and ready to go. And this is going to, I think, serve to accelerate that progress.

Speaker 1: Yeah, and what is, I guess most interesting to me is the fact that we went ahead and took hemp, .3% and below, off of the Controlled Substances Act. That verbiage is important. We just kind of, not kind of, we actually just removed it. It's just that easy, isn't it?

Blumenauer: Well, it should be. And we've had conversations before about this. And actually if the Republican leadership had allowed the legislative process to work, we could have made more progress this time because we had more people in Congress who understand the failed prohibition of marijuana is a tragic mistake.

Blumenauer: I had the privilege of working with almost 90 candidates around the country. Everybody before they got help from me or a campaign contribution, got information about issues, and at the top of the list was cannabis. We are going to have the most pro-cannabis Congress in history. Not only that, the issue dealing with marijuana reform, the future of cannabis, played a large role in the election. The person who was our number one enemy in the House, Pete Sessions, is no longer in the House, and in part because advocates from around the country worked with us to help a candidate who will be open. Colin Allred, is very reasonable, he cares about medical marijuana for our veterans for instance, just to pick it out of the air, and is not going to be an impediment.

Blumenauer: And this is, I think, a signal to Republicans that they ought not to interfere. Cannabis won in three more states.

Speaker 1: Including Utah.

Blumenauer: The voters in Missouri, it was fun campaigning there, figured out, among three, it was kind of a complicated equation, they figured out the best medical marijuana to support in The Bible belt. Michigan, full legal. Very significant. And as you mentioned, Utah. This is, I think, significant in a couple of levels. One, it was passed over the objection over the Mormon Church. Now the Republican legislature hijacked it and-

Speaker 1: Messed with it.

Blumenauer: Put their mark on it.

Speaker 1: Okay.

Blumenauer: But the fact is the will of the people in Utah is for cannabis reform. Also, there's probably no election other perhaps than Sessions where the power of cannabis reform as a political issue was illustrated. Ben McAdams, who's an extraordinarily well qualified candidate, but who is somebody who is open to cannabis reform, and again dealing with things like medical marijuana and research, he is elected because of millennials who voted for their cannabis measure, and they went ahead and voted for Ben. He got like 70/30 of the millennial vote. And in a razor thin margin, they can claim to have elected him.

Speaker 1: So this is kind of new information. Cannabis always got more votes than you, whether you were Democrat or Republican, now cannabis almost pulling candidate, and what you're saying is definitely pulling a candidate over the finish line?

Blumenauer: I would say actually cannabis did not get more votes than me in my district.

Speaker 1: Fair enough.

Blumenauer: But historically-

Speaker 1: Yes.

Blumenauer: Cannabis got more votes than any state-wide elected official in Colorado, it happened again in Michigan. As we have, again, discussed before, in 2016 when there were nine ballot measures, eight of which passed, cannabis got more votes than Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

Blumenauer: This is something that people are paying attention to, and we continue to have a bi-partisan coalition with our bi-partisan cannabis caucus that I think is prepared to move forward. We have outlined a path forward in this Congress, we have comprehensive bills. I continue to think the ones that I've introduced with Senator Widen are the best, but there are others. And, we have an inventory of over three dozen bills that have been introduced, which I think people are gonna follow through. There's interest, they're good ideas, and it's going to be the most pro-cannabis Congress ever.

Speaker 1: We're looking forward to that. I wanna talk about the people in a minute, but the bills in question, the States Act, [inaudible 00:07:43], obviously two different bills, but have the same name, States Act, what do you like about it, and it can be improved, of course-

Blumenauer: Right, I think the legislation Senator Widen and I introduced is the gold standard.

Speaker 1: Let's talk about that.

Blumenauer: It hits them all. We've been circulating a path forward that deals with the issues that all the committees can have.

Speaker 1: This is the nine-point plan if I'm not mistaken.

Blumenauer: I have hand-delivered to every single incoming committee chair in Congress a potential path forward, a role for each committee. Because while I would like to have the Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act that I've got, or Schumer, interesting having Chuck Schumer with his Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, which has good provisions. The legislation that we've done with Elizabeth Warren, with-

Speaker 1: Cory Gardiner.

Blumenauer: Cory Gardiner, Dave Joyce. But the point is, what we want is ... we've got great vehicles. We can debate what should be a part of them or not, but the point is, they are vehicles that could serve the purpose of actually having the spirited debate, the exchange, to be able to deal with the inequities, like the insanity of denying financial services, deal with research opportunities, deal with the equity that needs to occur in terms of a little restorative justice, and involving the minority community. They're all elements that will ultimately be woven in to the final bill.

Blumenauer: I don't want people to focus on a particular vehicle now. That's a mistake. We don't want to do that. I want to have more members have ownership, let them take a cut at it. That's why I have co-sponsored every single bill that is consistent with the overall priorities. And my staff and I have been working with these people to get a hearing, to be able to help craft it, to facilitate discussion with the advocates in the industry. What we need is to let the legislative process work. Let these vehicles, and ultimately it probably shouldn't be one that a small number of individuals have introduced. I think it should be probably a committee vehicle, so it's depersonalized. And I don't want this to be an arm wrestling struggle for credit.

Speaker 1: Got it. No, my bill. No, my bill. Forget about that.

Blumenauer: We don't need it. Which is why I've tried to help everybody. It's why I've introduced legislation that, as I say, I think is the gold standard. It reflects work we've been doing for a decade around the country. But you will see zero pride of authorship with me. What I want is to help the committees get started, move things forward, and then be able to assimilate these ideas into a comprehensive piece of legislation.

Blumenauer: The first thing I wanna have happen here is deal with three pieces that are all teed up and ready to go. We've got a research bill. It's bi-partisan, there's no reason on God's green earth that we shouldn't pass that tomorrow.

Speaker 1: Is that the VA research bill, or the bigger one?

Blumenauer: No, no, no.

Speaker 1: Okay.

Blumenauer: It's the one that Harris and I introduced a couple Congresses ago.

Speaker 1: Right, exactly.

Blumenauer: And it's broader than just the VA. Speaking of the VA however, it is important to take our Veteran's Access Bill, that legislation that I've been introducing for I guess four Congresses, actually passed the House and the Senate last Congress, and they wouldn't allow a vote on it this time. But that's ready to go, and that has broad support, and will make a profound difference for America's veterans and be able to make the point that people need to understand.

Blumenauer: The last bill that is teed up, ready to go, and critically important, with no legitimate argument against it, is dealing with banking. And, we've had friends in both the House and the Senate move forward on that. I've had conversations with the ranking member, soon to be chair, Maxine Waters of financial services, Ed Perlmutter, Danny Heck. There are dozens of people who co-sponsored that legislation.

Blumenauer: These are three things that can happen in the first three months of this Congress.

Speaker 1: Fantastic.

Blumenauer: I wanna see some momentum.

Speaker 1: Yep.

Blumenauer: Now the Blumenauer Joyce Amendment, I guess it'll be called now-

Speaker 1: This was one of my questions, now you've just answered it.

Blumenauer: With appropriations, we're set through the end of this fiscal year, but opportunities of using the appropriations process is gonna be critical until we're able to deal with broader reform. Dave Joyce has been a remarkable partner. Barbara Lee has been on top of this. We will be working cooperatively on several items in the appropriations process going forward.

Blumenauer: Having these in place, early, on a non-partisan basis, with people who have proven their commitment, go back to the Veteran's Committee, chairman Phil Roe, worked with Tim Walz. He is an important voice because he's a very conservative, principled Republican, who understands this stuff. We wanna build on that.

Blumenauer: And, last but not least, I am looking forward, early in this Congress to work with many of these new people that I just came away from the campaign trail extraordinarily impressed with, to encourage them to be part of the cannabis caucus, and to encourage them to identify legislation that speaks to them, or ideas that they have for their own legislation. We want to build this movement, we wanna continue being inclusive, we want people to be creative. And last but not least, I've been working with the industry and the advocates. We've had some coordinating sessions already before the new congress. It's something that my team and I have been doing on a regular basis. They're ready to go. The advocates, and the-

Speaker 1: Industry itself.

Blumenauer: The industry have been increasingly effective, sophisticated, patient, but not too patient, in the context of a changing world. And I would just conclude on this note, because October 17th, we went all legal in Canada.

Speaker 1: Yes we did.

Blumenauer: We're watching the conversation shift dramatically in Mexico. And in fact, having cannabis reform in North America will help dramatically with problems of illegal drug trade. What's happened with the opiod crisis, greater access to medical marijuana will save lives because people won't get hooked on this destructive poison. We have an opportunity for a North American market. We have issues now in terms of an imbalance of supply and demand in various parts of the country. And we wanna choke off the black market. This new world, I think we will find the progress in the House is going to promote action in the Senate. I think things that pass the administration, particularly now that Sessions is gone, the Jeff Sessions-

Speaker 1: Understood. Yeah.

Blumenauer: Not just Pete, will sign. They're not gonna object to it. And it's a great run-up to the 2020 election. As we've discussed, I am unequivocal there will never be an anti-cannabis successful candidate for president.

Speaker 1: Again. Not anymore, we're done with that.

Blumenauer: It's never gonna happen. We're going to watch more people embrace it, and understand it, and talk about it. We will continue to see more progress at the state and local level. There's experimentation going on in terms of restorative justice, criminal justice reform.

Speaker 1: With the expungements and things like that?

Blumenauer: They're teed up and ready to go. There's some that's started, there's more that can happen. I mean this is going to be a tidal wave of action over the course of the next two or three years.

Speaker 1: With the people that are coming in, you say it's a new Congress, it's a completely different feel, also you mentioned the Blumenauer Joyce Amendment. I just met Congressman Joyce for the first time. I know Congressman Rohrabacher pretty well. I've interviewed him as much as I've interviewed you, I think maybe one more time, point being, those are two different individuals, those are two different mindsets. Congressman Joyce is a former prosecutor.

Blumenauer: And I've enjoyed Dana's leadership on this. I mean, I obviously don't agree with him in a bunch of other things, but we've been partners on this for years. But Dave Joyce comes to this with every bit the commitment that Dana had, but as a former prosecutor, as a member of the appropriations committee, somebody not from one of the coasts, but the heartland-

Speaker 1: Ohio, yep.

Blumenauer: Really adds a dimension. But, we're seeing this in terms of new people who are adding their voice to this movement. I cannot wait for the new congress to Convene. We will have more people supportive, we will have more ideas out there, and we will make more progress, I think, relatively quickly.

Speaker 1: As far as your nine-point plan, you're looking at the chairs of these committees to actually act. You've got just very simple language of what we can do. A couple of bullet points.

Blumenauer: But we have shared it with all the committee chairs, but we've talked to committee staff. I'm talking to members of the committee. I mean this is something that should be broadly shared. This is something that is not risky. In fact, people like Pete Sessions found out that opposition itself is risky.

Speaker 1: Indeed.

Blumenauer: And, this is going to be a major issue going forward. And it is important that both parties understand that this isn't partisan tug-of-war, it's not my bill versus your bill, and it's certainly not anything to be gained by retarding it. And I think it's just going to flow with the regular order of congressional business, and I predict it's going to be ... progress is gonna happen more rapidly than people think.

Speaker 1: That's the first three months. You mentioned three things that can happen in the first three months. The rest of this Congress, the rest of that two years, do you have any sense of really what can occur here? Are we talking about-

Blumenauer: Everything that we've advanced in the outline is possible in the next Congress.

Speaker 1: Perfect. 280E is the only thing, why can't we get that pushed over the line?

Blumenauer: Well first of all, we had Republicans in charge.

Speaker 1: There we go.

Blumenauer: They wouldn't give us a hearing on it.

Speaker 1: Can we just do that? Why is that not in the first three months?

Blumenauer: Well, it is slightly more complicated. It carries a cost with it because the fact that they're not able to deduct their business expenses mean they end up paying more tax. At a time when we have exploding deficits because of Republican irresponsibility. Actually, Carlos and I thought that they ought to tuck it into that stupid $2 trillion bill because this would be rounding error.

Speaker 1: Yeah. Carlos Cabello. Yep.

Blumenauer: And I also felt, and continue to feel, that actually being able to advance this will not cost revenue. What we're seeing now is that because it is such a draconian penalty to fully comply with the law, there are many people out there that are using creative accounting provisions, some people are waiting until they get caught and audited, other people are kind of shading it. They're not unique. There are over $300 billion of taxes that are evaded. And those that are involved with the cannabis industry where they may be cutting corners is a relatively modest amount, but it is not without a cost. This needs to be part of a broader effort when we have a tax at the federal level-

Speaker 1: Excise tax.

Blumenauer: On cannabis. And when we do that, we will have something that no one can argue is not a net positive. It is part of a more complicated equation. It's not something you jump to right away-

Speaker 1: Isn't that the trick though, to marry the 280E reform with a excise tax.

Blumenauer: That is the simplest path forward, and it's what we've recommended. But, we're flexible here. We'll see what people do. The first press conference I had with this six years ago, the person who was with me at the press conference was Grover Norquist. The Republican tax activist, who hates all taxes. But Grover was saying it's a matter of equity. This also doesn't have to be partisan. But it's part of the broader equation. There are pieces here to be put together, there's a path forward. If we do it right, it's going to be a net revenue increased for the federal government, if we legalize this vast industry. If we choke off the black market, we will raise money, we will make families safer, we'll keep it out of the hands of children, and we'll unlock the opportunity for a vibrant economic element, and then last but not least, what will happen when we fully utilize legalized cannabis?

Speaker 1: The entire plant?

Blumenauer: Top to bottom, just ... I'll conclude on this note. If we are able to allow Medicare, Medicaid, and the VA to dispense legal, medical marijuana, it will be more effective for the conditions, there will be fewer overdose death, fewer people addicted, and we will save not billions, not tens of billions, we will save hundreds of billions of dollars. So this I think makes sense, The time is right, and I'm looking forward to rolling up my sleeves, and getting at it.

Speaker 1: I can't wait for you to do so. Soundtrack time, one song, one track, on the soundtrack of your life, you know that the final question every time?

Blumenauer: Camelot.

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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.