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Earl Blumenauer Handicaps Tuesday’s ‘Very Consequential’ Legalization Votes

November 7, 2016
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore. responds to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's earlier speech to a joint meeting of Congress, Tuesday, March 3, 2015, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
No one knows the importance of the legalization measures being decided Tuesday more than Rep. Earl Blumenuer. The Oregon congressman, famous for his bow ties and bicycle pins, has long been one of the strongest voices fighting for the end of federal cannabis prohibition. He’s introduced legislation to reform cannabis banking, support patients, and open federal research. He was instrumental in bringing cannabis legalization to his home state of Oregon in 2014.

Leafly caught up with the congressman recently to get his perspective on legalization, how the Clinton campaign feels about cannabis, and what these measures could mean for cannabis in Congress.


Batman in a Bow Tie: We Talk Cannabis Reform With Rep. Earl Blumenauer

Leafly: Which state do you think will be the most important for legalization?

Rep. Earl Blumenauer: That’s a fascinating question because California almost certainly will approve it, and having this huge market will be extraordinarily consequential. But, basically, it’s not going to be a surprise. It’s expected to pass there. Florida, even though it’s only medical marijuana, is going to become the second largest marijuana market in America, the first real Southern state, and it’s going to pass with about 70 percent ‘yes’ vote. So that’s going to be very consequential.

Other states, there’s a great editorial that came out in the Boston Globe where it still shows the measure being ahead in the polls despite the opposition of virtually the entire political establishment – the Boston mayor, the governor, and [Rep.] Patrick Kennedy. And it’ll probably pass in Maine.


Boston Globe Endorses Adult-Use Legalization

Nevada, I’ve been down there several times. It’s probably going to pass there, but I think probably Nevada and Arizona may be the most consequential because they are swing states. Actually, as I say that, I’m chuckling to myself because, who would have thought, six months ago, that Arizona would be a swing state?

But the Hillary people are all over Arizona. John McCain has all he can handle, trying to hold on to his seat. We’ve got some very aggressive House candidates and the marijuana initiative, despite not being perhaps the best drafted proposal, it’s in the hunt. So if Arizona, which is perceived to be red, if it passes it, and frankly, Nevada, which is a swing state and is significant because there are about 50 million people [a year] that visit Nevada from all over the world. So we’ll see lots and lots of people be exposed to adult use for the first time and probably some people that would experiment in Las Vegas or Reno that may not do that in Poughkeepsie or Richmond, Virginia or something.

I don’t minimize at all. This California measure will send earthquake reverberations as will Florida, but these other ones will be very consequential for what is going to line up for the reform movement. And taken as a whole, all eight of these, more of them are likely to pass than not, and that’s going to make our job in Congress, dealing with fair taxation and research and banking an awful lot easier.

“It is hugely important to millennial voters and it’s a trend that cannot be reversed. The tide is not going to reverse.”
Earl Blumenauer, US Representative (D-OR)

Have you been talking about legalization with the Clinton campaign at all?

Well, I have, over the last two years, made it clear to the leadership of the Clinton campaign on numerous occasions, that this is one of the issues that is important, this is where America is going. It also is hugely important to millennial voters and it’s a trend that cannot be reversed. Half of America now has medical marijuana and when you deal with some of the low-CBD for seizure disorders, it’s three-quarters of America that has medical marijuana. It’s thousands of businesses. The tide is not going to reverse.

I’ve talked personally to Secretary Clinton about this, in fact, there was something in the Wikileaks that came out, her notes on our conversation that included discussion of marijuana – and she took very good notes by the way, it was very accurate – but I’ve had that conversation with her, with campaign leadership. This was one of the top three things that I talked about.

I’m convinced that the Clinton administration will build on what the Obama administration did, and we’re going to be in a very strong position in the next Congress to build on this progress.


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Did you receive any positive indicators from the Clinton campaign about cannabis legalization?

The interaction convinced me that they understand the implications in terms of the practical aspects and in terms of politics, and what’s right. They are, I’m convinced, perfectly content to let the state-by-state experimentation continue and that no good purpose is served denying them bank accounts and restricting research.

This is not something they are going to concentrate on, when there is so much going on that they are the dealing with, the Drumpf meltdown, and I’ve had enough conversations that I’m quite confident that they will be at least as good as the Obama administration and that we will be able, with the new administration and a better Congress, to be able to make this progress.

What do you think a positive outcome on Election Day will mean for the future of Congress?

The two that I’m most confident of, will be the two large markets, with Florida, the first Southern state, and California, which is a large country in and of itself. With those two moving towards legal marijuana businesses, it dramatically changes the equation for the number of Republican legislators who need to support our efforts to be able to meet the needs of their constituents. Because whether they believe in legal marijuana or not, it’s legal in Florida and California and there will be hundreds and hundreds of more businesses that will be suffering if they can’t have bank accounts and will be unfairly taxed.


Congressman ‘Appalled’ at House GOP for Rejecting Cannabis Banking Measure

This is going to really change the equation for cosponsorship for bills, for committee action. We’ve already had five votes on the floor of the House that were pro-cannabis. My legislation for veterans to be able to work with their VA doctor, which passed, by the way, with 57 Republican votes in the House and passed in the Senate before it was a backroom dealing that stripped it out of the bill. There will be even more support for it.

By the way, the guy who was chair of that conference committee, who presided over it being gutted, isn’t coming back. Senator [Mark] Kirk (R-Illinois) is going to lose, and I won’t say that this is the main reason, but thousands of veterans were outraged and people ended up contributing to and voting for Tammy Duckworth, who did support veterans’ rights.

“It’s going to happen, so I’m quite energized for a whole host of reasons. The marijuana progress is going to continue and I think it’s going to accelerate.”
Earl Blumenauer, US Representative (D-OR)

So, when I look at all of this, I think our job is going to be easier in this Congress. I think the industry continues to become better and better organized. Two people who are kind of the villains for the reform movement, Kirk and a guy named [John] Fleming from Louisiana, he’s losing in his race to become a Senator, so they’re not there [as an obstacle]. Last but not least, we’ve got bipartisan support for our research bill. We’ve got Andy Harris, we’ve drafted this legislation together to open up the research. It’s going to happen, so I’m quite energized for a whole host of reasons. The marijuana progress is going to continue and I think it’s going to accelerate.

Lisa Rough's Bio Image

Lisa Rough

Lisa is a former associate editor at Leafly, where she specialized in legislative cannabis policy and industry topics.

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  • Digital Bath

    Excellent interview. Couldn’t agree more about Arizona and in particular Nevada. I think Las Vegas blows the doors off the industry in ways we haven’t seen before, and like so many other forms of adult entertainment in Nevada make it accessible in fantastic ways.

    Again, great interview. Thank you very much.

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