Ep. 398: US Congressman Ro Khanna, CA

Cannabis Economy Podcast
Ep. 398: US Congressman Ro Khanna, CA

Ep. 398: US Congressman Ro Khanna, CA

US Congressman Ro Khanna joins us and shares what it will take to federally legalize Cannabis in the coming years: “We’ve got to have big wins in 2020, and if we do that, I think this becomes law. But this is an issue like medicare for all, like net neutrality, like the dreamers, like gun safety where 70% of the American public wants one thing and Washington isn’t doing that.”

Transcript:

Seth Adler: All right, so here we are back in Cannon. Congressman Ro Khanna. How are you?

Ro Khanna: I'm doing well.

Seth Adler: So it's been a minute, it really hasn't even been that long since we spoke, but since then there's been a tremendous amount of change in Washington DC, and oh yeah, there was a G7 nation that legalized cannabis in every way.

Ro Khanna: Right, Canada.

Seth Adler: Yeah.

Ro Khanna: And a huge shift in public opinion now in the House in the Democratic party. When I started advocating for the legalization of marijuana, it was seen as a fringe opinion, as somewhat out there, progressive.

Seth Adler: Yeah, look at the frisky new kid from the left coast, right?

Ro Khanna: Yeah, exactly. And Barbara Lee and I proposed with Cory Booker, the Marijuana Justice Act, which the point we made is it's not just about legalizing marijuana, which is necessary for medical purposes, which is good for the economy, it's a racial justice issue ...

Seth Adler: Expungement.

Ro Khanna: ... that millions and millions of kids lose their future because they develop criminal records and if they're black or brown they develop these records, and if they're white suburban kids, they don't. And for doing the same exact thing. So we passed or we introduced the Marijuana Justice Act to expunge these convictions and to legalize marijuana, take it off the Schedule I drug, and we had maybe 10-15 cosponsors. Now I believe we're gonna have a lot more momentum for this.

Seth Adler: All right, so here we are back in Cannon. Congressman Ro Khanna. How are you?

Ro Khanna: I'm doing well.

Seth Adler: So it's been a minute, it really hasn't even been that long since we spoke, but since then there's been a tremendous amount of change in Washington DC, and oh yeah, there was a G7 nation that legalized cannabis in every way.

Ro Khanna: Right, Canada.

Seth Adler: Yeah.

Ro Khanna: And a huge shift in public opinion now in the House in the Democratic party. When I started advocating for the legalization of marijuana, it was seen as a fringe opinion, as somewhat out there, progressive.

Seth Adler: Yeah, look at the frisky new kid from the left coast, right?

Ro Khanna: Yeah, exactly. And Barbara Lee and I proposed with Cory Booker, the Marijuana Justice Act, which the point we made is it's not just about legalizing marijuana, which is necessary for medical purposes, which is good for the economy, it's a racial justice issue ...

Seth Adler: Expungement.

Ro Khanna: ... that millions and millions of kids lose their future because they develop criminal records and if they're black or brown they develop these records, and if they're white suburban kids, they don't. And for doing the same exact thing. So we passed or we introduced the Marijuana Justice Act to expunge these convictions and to legalize marijuana, take it off the Schedule I drug, and we had maybe 10-15 cosponsors. Now I believe we're gonna have a lot more momentum for this.

Seth Adler: Okay, well let's just take the Marijuana Justice Act ...

Ro Khanna: Yeah.

Seth Adler: ... as the tip of our spear.

Ro Khanna: Right.

Seth Adler: And when you say 10 or 15, whatever it was, what do you expect? Do you expect a sea change specifically on just that legislation then we'll get into the bigger picture.

Ro Khanna: Yeah.

Seth Adler: Is everybody including, maybe even Nancy Pelosi gonna go ahead and sign on with Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna?

Ro Khanna: Well, I'm gonna make a big push for it with a new class. I think a good number to shoot for is 50-plus to show, I mean 100-plus would be a ...

Seth Adler: Sure, but you think 50-plus is viable?

Ro Khanna: 50-plus I think is very viable, with all the new members that we have.

Seth Adler: Yeah.

Ro Khanna: And the shift of public opinion. And remember, that's just 50 people cosponsoring it. We get a lot more votes, but I think we have to push for two things. We gotta push for as many cosponsors, and then we have to push for a vote. And let's put people on record in our own party and the Republican Party, who is for this and who is not for it? I don't think we should allow the politicians to hide behind their rhetoric. People love to hide behind the rhetoric, say they're for exploring solutions.

Seth Adler: Right.

Ro Khanna: Where are you gonna vote? This is a binary issue, you're either for legalization or you're not.

Seth Adler: All right, I love getting a vote and some of the change here in the House has to do with specific changes. Well, Pete Sessions did actually and that ... If there was on person in the House, that's the guy who kind of the blockage to anything even getting voted on.

Ro Khanna: I don't want to gloat over the election, but Pete Sessions once called me into his office because I was trying to get a vote on Yemen, resolution of the war crimes, and he preceded to jokingly but in a way give me the freshman hazing. You got to learn about this institution and learn about this and you haven't done your homework. The staffer texted me after he lost saying, "I guess Pete hadn't done his homework."

Seth Adler: Exactly.

Ro Khanna: He was not a champion for any form of marijuana reform. He was the chair of the rules committee, so he could block any legislation coming from the floor. Now you're going to have Jim McGovern, chair of the rules committee, and Jim McGovern I'm almost 100% sure is for legalization. And so that's a big, big difference.

Seth Adler: Yeah. It's a huge. It's just completely ...

Ro Khanna: It's 180 degrees.

Seth Adler: That's exactly it. So that's the Marijuana Justice Act. You've been using comprehensive reform are the words that you're using.

Ro Khanna: Yes.

Seth Adler: How kind of bullish can we get here now? I understand that the Senate is still the Senate, but, again, you mentioned public opinion, how bullish are you going to be here as far as comprehensive reform?

Ro Khanna: I'm not going to be bullish until we have a new president. But we have to ... Because this president's not going to sign this. I'm just being realistic.

Seth Adler: Yeah, but they did the repeal Obamacare vote. How many hundreds of times?

Ro Khanna: Yeah. No, so we'll get a vote.

Seth Adler: Okay.

Ro Khanna: We may even pass it in the House. But I'm talking about making this into a law.

Seth Adler: Into actual law.

Ro Khanna: And I think that's going to require one more election cycle, which is not that fair away. I mean, we've got to have big wins in 2020, and if we do that, I think this becomes law. But this is an issue like medicare for all, like net neutrality, like the dreamers, like gun safety where 70% of the American public wants one thing and Washington isn't doing that. And this is why people are frustrated, angry, enraged about the democratic process. It used to be that you thought democracy reflected public sentiment, and that just isn't the case.

Seth Adler: The definitely is not the case. Understanding that we need a presidential change for comprehensive reform. I'll back up then. What is possible over the next two years?

Ro Khanna: Honestly, I think what's possible is to build the legislative consensus so that when we do have a sympathetic president, we can act on this within the first 100 days. It would be a mistake for progressives not to push for legislation before that because then we'd be having to build a case when we do get a different president. But what we need to do is have all of the legislation for legalization, for expungement, for community investment of funds so that the developers in the marijuana industry are diverse. So it's not just incumbents and that people of color also get to participate in the industry. All that legislative work needs to be done and needs to have the votes. So a new president doesn't have to have a heavy lift, and it doesn't matter whether that president is Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, or Steve Bullock, we're going to pass this.

Seth Adler: It's interesting chose on three just random.

Ro Khanna: Random.

Seth Adler: So there you go. You didn't mention 280E or maybe I missed it.

Ro Khanna: This is on the legalization part?

Seth Adler: Yeah. So that businesses can actually expense regularly and not traffic, right?

Ro Khanna: Well that I think is ... I know Sessions had threatened some of that and going after businesses in California on doing that because in California, businesses can expense it. And I think we need to look at that federally. But I also think that with Sessions out at the Justice Department, as negative as that is for the Mueller investigation, it's probably a good thing for the marijuana industry in California and other places. He was no friend to that industry.

Seth Adler: There is no question about that. I'll just take a quick tangent to gun reform because you mentioned it, and I have spoken with Congressman McClintock who is a big fan of conceal carry across the nation. And I put it to him, "Well, what if we just did that with cannabis?" So his eyes got wide because of course McClintock post governor elect Polis now. So he thought it was an interesting point.

Ro Khanna: Tom McClintock did? Well, you point out the hypocrisy in some of the Republican rhetoric on federalism. I mean, if you're for federalism and letting states decide, you should let states decide on marijuana legalization, right? Certainly I'd much rather people be carrying marijuana than guns. I mean, in terms of what's a threat to our society. So here's what I know, either young Republicans, people like Matt Gates. I mean, Matt Gates is out there. I couldn't disagree with him more. He's out there protesting so that black people don't have their votes counted basically in Florida. But on marijuana, I love the guy. I mean, so when you got people like Matt Gates out there supporting marijuana, you know this is a bipartisan issue.

Seth Adler: I literally was supposed to be back to back with him and you today, and because he's doing that, not meeting him today.

Ro Khanna: You don't have to characterize it in the way I did.

Seth Adler: Well, no.

Ro Khanna: But ...

Seth Adler: Strange bed fellows cannabis makes without question because it just so obvious, right?

Ro Khanna: It's obvious and it's generational in part. It's funny, we had this meeting on the Armed Services Committee, and you had all these senior Republicans talking about how marijuana was going to hurt the readiness of our military. And Gates just spoke up and demolished these arguments. Like do you really think that no one in the military is using marijuana? I mean, wake up. It was very much a generational thing.

Seth Adler: Interesting. I just love your word use because you don't mind using words that are direct. You like to use the term war on drugs, communities ravaged by the war on drugs. Why do you come at it from that perspective as opposed to softer language to bring your friends from across the aisle along with you?

Ro Khanna: Well, I think because that's the language Nixon used. It was historical, right?

Seth Adler: It was literally that's what they called it.

Ro Khanna: Right. We don't sugarcoat history. Whether evils of history or wrongs in history, you have to acknowledge those. And the Nixon administration systematically had a policy controlling as they put it minority areas in their strategy for controlling these minority areas was to increase incarceration for low level drug offenses. And that's how they thought they were going to deal with these communities that they found ungovernable.

Seth Adler: Yeah.

Ro Khanna: So it's important that people understand the history of this and why we've had mass incarceration sky rocket in the last 40 years. I mean, it's not like this has been the case since the founding of our country.

Seth Adler: No, not at all. Not at all. So that war on drugs is different than the current war on drugs, which is our opioid epidemic, which ravages different communities, I guess, and you and I have spoken about those communities kind of finding those communities and understanding that technology. You're coming from Silicon Valley. Probably going to help us out there.

Ro Khanna: Yeah.

Seth Adler: A buoyant cannabis economy might help because you've got everything from agriculture to manufacturing to retail, all the way down the line. Those sound like jobs to me.

Ro Khanna: Absolutely. I'm just going to Jefferson, Iowa where we're creating all these tech jobs in a community in rural America. So we have to do more to bring jobs, economic opportunity, and we need alternatives to these opiates. And marijuana in some sense can be one of those alternatives, but what you have is a drug crisis caused my pharmaceutical companies for greed. I mean, these pharmaceutical companies over prescribed or told doctors to prescribe medicines that had huge side effects, and you never have had that kind of abuse when it comes to cannabis.

Seth Adler: Well, you can't is what it is. It just can't happen.

Ro Khanna: Well, I suppose someone could abuse at some quantity.

Seth Adler: Yeah. I mean, you can just like get kind of more lazy than you are now is really ... Maybe a little bit more paranoid. But these are ...

Ro Khanna: There's no level of consumption that at some point would trigger a negative consequence.

Seth Adler: Of course, yeah. No, paranoia and laziness and all that. But it's solves seizures. It doesn't cause them.

Ro Khanna: Right. Right.

Seth Adler: You can't overdose quite the same way that you can on alcohol. There needed to be more science so that you and I can have a more thoughtful conversation on that. But bottom line is since day one of the universe, no one has died from cannabis.

Ro Khanna: Right. And what we're talking about is regulated cannabis use. I mean, no one is saying that you should be unregulated. At least it should be regulated for kids. It should be regulated in a way that is as safe as possible. But the point is your point is no one has died, and 72,000 deaths out of the opioid crisis. And that was pharmaceutical greed. So the people who are consuming marijuana or cannabis and are often in our jails aren't responsible for the deaths.

Seth Adler: When we spoke, you mentioned state regulations or you mentioned regulations. I'll call that state regulations. It was in between full legalization in California and then that July 1st deadline. That's when we spoke. So since then, we've been doing okay in California. I feel like folks are a little disappointed by the tax revenue that's come in. What are your thoughts? I know that you're dealing with federal issues, not state issues, but ...

Ro Khanna: I think it's been positive, but the challenge has been a lot of local communities are still resisting the marijuana dispensaries and other places to come to their community. And until you get more adoption by cities and city counsels and communities to say that this is something that we want for our economy, you're not going to see the full benefit. So I would say it's been strong, but we could do a lot better if we had more adoption by cities and realized this is not some threat to the fabric of the community.

Seth Adler: No. Not at all. The entire state of Colorado can tell you that.

Ro Khanna: But in my district, I mean, we have some places where some of the more conservative elements don't want these dispensaries or marijuana stores in their community. I don't know if we have any I don't think in Fremont. And there is a challenge in San Jose. So just because a state legalizes it, the community still have to embrace it to benefit from that tax dollars.

Seth Adler: You mentioned your district. So let's put on the other hat, the technology hat, and I can't wait to just dive in for a moment on artificial intelligence.

Ro Khanna: Yeah.

Seth Adler: It seems like it's your district versus China.

Ro Khanna: Right.

Seth Adler: Is that a fair way to put it? In other words, every article that I read, it's China versus the U.S.

Ro Khanna: I'll tell you, we're going to describe people in cannabis as artificial intelligence.

Seth Adler: Well, that's a different thing. That's wellness is what you're talking about.

Ro Khanna: I think we are in a strong position on artificial intelligence, but we got to do a few things. We have to invest in the National Science Foundation, in the Department of Defense artificial intelligence because our companies, even though they're investing, they aren't obligated to share that with the government. We have a free enterprise system. China has a state appropriated system. Their private companies share it with China, the Chinese government. Second, the currency in artificial intelligence is data, and China has hoards of data. We have unfortunately privacy laws. So that is a disadvantage. But the advantage we have is that we are distributed. We have a plenty of universities. We have the most innovative thinkers. We just need to make sure we make it a priority.

Seth Adler: Making it a priority is number one. Number two, I would imagine ethics is going to have to come into this conversation at some point.

Ro Khanna: Absolutely. Let me give you an example. The conservatives have demonized Google for not doing the Maven Project.

Seth Adler: If you want to see articles on that, just search Google.

Ro Khanna: Just search on Google. But here's the reality, first of all, Google does a lot with our military. They are aiding our military in many, many ways. So this conservative attack that they are not cooperating with the military is just false. They do far more than most other industries in most other states for the military. Second, let's talk about the Maven example. What was that? There were some 3000 Google employees who did not want Google's artificial intelligence to be used for drone strikes until there were ethical principles. Why? What artificial intelligence would allow you to do is have more suspects as targets because you got a large patterns of data. You get more targets. So it would increase the frequency of these drone strikes.
Now, you can't have drone strikes in private buildings because people, when they're at their own home, you can't get that through drone technology. You can't get them in office buildings. So where are these drone strikes happen is in public places. That means if you've got artificial intelligence that is improving the quality so you have more suspects that you can target, you're also going to be killing more civilians. What Google employees said is we want ethical standards to understand how this technology's going to be used so that if you are getting more targets, you're minimizing civil casualty. They didn't way we don't want artificial intelligence used in the military. They said there has to be some ethical thinking.
Of course that complex explanation just got a sound byte. Google doesn't want to cooperate with the military. But that's not the case.

Seth Adler: That is not the case. That is not the case. Finally, on this point, every conversation eventually, depending on what circles you're running with, gets to are we going to be talking about a universal basic income? What are we going to do with all of the job displacement that comes from artificial intelligence, and then you and I, folks like you and me will say, "Well, no, no, no. There's going to be a ton of jobs that come in to artificial." But where are we as far as that conversation, and where will that conversation go do you think?

Ro Khanna: 10 years ago, do you think anyone would have thought there would be jobs related to Cannabis Economy Podcast? I mean, the ability for human beings to predict what the future jobs are going to be is not very strong. Of course there are going to be new jobs. The question is how do we prepare for those jobs. What I have proposed is a land grant, tech grants for the 21st century. If Lincoln created the land grant institutions, Ohio State, Michigan State, West Virginia University to prepare people for the agricultural and mechanical arts, we've got to prepare people for the technology jobs of the future. Whether that technology is podcast, whether the technology is IT support, whether the technology is data manipulation. You don't have to be a coder. You don't have to understand some complex software. You just have to understand the types of jobs that are going to be available in the 21st century.

Seth Adler: And match patterns.

Ro Khanna: Yes.

Seth Adler: Three final questions for returning guests.

Ro Khanna: Yes.

Seth Adler: What would you change about yourself if anything? What would you change about anything else if you could? And on the soundtrack of your life, one track, one song what's got to be on there? Always the last question. What would you change about yourself if anything? Might be something you're already working on.

Ro Khanna: Well, I'd spend more time with my family. Try to spend more time with my son.

Seth Adler: Okay. And soon so you can maybe go back to California.

Ro Khanna: Yeah.

Seth Adler: What would you change about anything else if you could? Now, you're somebody that could change other stuff with your title.

Ro Khanna: Right. You're more limited than one would think.

Seth Adler: Of course.

Ro Khanna: But I would change the jobs in rural community, tech jobs in rural communities because I think that would help bridge some of the bigger divides in our nation.

Seth Adler: You are really onto something there. You are personally the one person that's talked to me about that, and I can't wait to support you as far as that effort.

Ro Khanna: I appreciate it.

Seth Adler: I just did notice that the only state that you mentioned is that you're going to Iowa. That's just strange.

Ro Khanna: West Virginia. Kentucky. Ohio.

Seth Adler: On the sound track of your life, one track, one song what's got to be on there?

Ro Khanna: I love Blowing in the Wind.

Seth Adler: Sure. All we are. And there you have U.S. Congressman Ro Khanna. Very much appreciate his time, as always. Very much appreciate your time, as always. 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.