Blumenauer: Congress Will Be ‘Better Than Ever’ on Cannabis

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-OR. arrives for a picnic for members of Congress on the South Lawn of the White House in 2015. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

The top cannabis ally in Congress sounded downright giddy Wednesday as he discussed what the midterm election results could mean for cannabis reform at the federal level.

“It was a big night,” US Rep. Earl Blumenauer said Wednesday on a conference call with reporters. “Three states approved: Utah, Missouri, and Michigan with adult use, continuing the string that started in 2016,” when voters seven states legalized some form of cannabis.

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The results don’t just mean action at the state level, either, Blumenauer said. It could also bode well for reform nationwide. Last month the Oregon Democrat released a step-by-step “Blueprint to Legalize Marijuana” aimed at ending federal cannabis prohibition, and he said Tuesday’s results bode well for pushing that plan forward.

'There are a half-dozen proposals (in Congress) right now that are lightyears ahead of where we are.'
US Rep. Earl Blumenauer

“The incoming Congress will be better than ever,” he said. “I think that we will continue to see more bipartisan progress.”

Not only did Democrats take control of the House in Tuesday’s elections, but voters booted a handful of outspoken cannabis opponents, including US Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, and US Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), whom Blumenauer described as “regarded by advocates as the No. 1 enemy of cannabis progress in Congress.”

Mere minutes after the press call ended, DC said goodbye to another outspoken cannabis opponent: Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

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“Jeff Sessions is one of the worst Attorneys General we’ve ever had,” Blumenauer told Leafly in a statement. “Time and time again, he attempted to impose his own views which did not match the majority of the American people when it came to reforming our outdated marijuana laws. I look forward to working with our new majority in the House to finally end the federal government’s policy of prohibition, which continues to ruin lives—and disproportionately the lives of people of color.”

On the call with reporters, Blumenauer pledged to take advantage of the moment. “My commitment is to move as quickly as possible on some of these initial steps to educate the public and members of Congress.”

As part of the blueprint he released last month, Blumenauer hopes to convene relevant lawmakers and hammer out provisions to be included in an eventual House bill. While he said he’s not sure what specific provisions might make the cut, he suggested that pretty much progress would beat the status quo.

“There are a half-dozen proposals right now that are lightyears ahead of where we are” on issues such as cannabis research, access to cannabis by veterans, and banking for the legal cannabis industry. “I think we’ll be able to hammer out an approach.”

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On the lack of banking and other financial services, Blumenauer was blunt, calling the status quo “outrageous.”

“It’s a stupid policy if you care about money laundering, if you care about theft, if you care about tax evasion,” he said. “It’s not fair, it doesn’t make sense, and, in fact, it’s dangerous.”

Despite being a relatively progressive Democrat, Blumenauer has historically reached across the aisle on cannabis reform measures, such as with the Rohrabacher–Blumenauer amendment, which prevented the Justice Department from prosecuting state-legal medical cannabis.

“One of the things that I’ve been committed to doing from the beginning is to meet with my colleagues, listen to them,” he said, noting that Republican Reps. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Dave Joyce (R-OH) have been strong supporters. Gardner has been “outspoken in his leadership,” Blumenauer said, while Joyce “I think will be one of our co-chairs of our Cannabis Caucus,” a group of congressional representatives committed to reforming the country’s cannabis laws.

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Because of his commitment to bipartisanship and the legislative process, Blumenauer urged advocates to be realistic.

“I will make a prediction now, a stunning prediction,” he said: “What ultimately emerges will not be perfect legislation.” It will instead be a starting point, he explained, “a foundation for further progress.”