Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer is bullish on marijuana.
"This is a pivotal time," Blumenauer, a Democrat, said in a call with reporters on Wednesday. "The long term is clear. I've stated and I strongly believe in five years every state will be able to treat marijuana like it treats alcohol."
Marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, though Oregon is one of the eight states that have legalized it and allowed commercial sale.
Blumenauer has championed the emerging industry in Washington and introduced bipartisan legislation to tax and regulate marijuana at the federal level, remove obstacles to research, and ensure safe access for medical patients.
Despite the "sometimes confusing signals" coming from the Trump administration, Blumenauer said that "we will ultimately be successful working with this administration" on marijuana reform.
He says that he sees three main areas for Congressional action on marijuana reform, though he notes that it's less likely to come as "standalone" legislation, but would rather be tacked on to other larger legislative packages:
First, Blumenauer has introduced bipartisan legislation with Rep. Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican, to eliminate federal roadblocks to researching marijuana. Because of marijuana's Schedule I status, it's difficult for scientists to access quality samples and obtain grants to research.
Second, Blumenauer said that he introduced legislation "ending the punitive taxation" for marijuana businesses with Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican. There's a section of the tax code, 280E, that disallows state-legal marijuana businesses from fully deducting expenses, because of the conflict between state and federal law. It produces a tax burden that is up to five times what a similarly-situated business would face, according to Blumenauer. Grover Norquist, a conservative tax reformer, has supported this legislation.
Third, marijuana businesses are largely forced to operate on an all-cash basis, because risk-averse financial institutions do not want to bank businesses that are technically illegal at the federal level. Blumenauer noted that "not one person" he's spoken with on both sides of the aisle thinks that this is a good idea, as cash-operating businesses present security risks and the opportunity to launder money.
Blumenauer said that these three provisions, which have "overwhelming" bipartisan support, are highly likely to occur, specifically through the Senate Finance Committee and the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
Marijuana reform, according to Blumenauer, is likely to "flow the easiest" in the Finance Committee. One of the most marijuana-friendly lawmakers in Congress, Oregon senator Ron Wyden, is a top-ranking member of the committee.
Trump's administration, however, hasn't been friendly to marijuana reform as of yet. The Jeff Sessions-led Justice Department has hinted at cracking down on state-legal marijuana businesses. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly called marijuana a "gateway drug" on Tuesday and said that marijuana possession charges will be "essential elements" for deporting undocumented immigrants.
"Marijuana got more votes than Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton," Blumenauer said on Wednesday, countering the rhetoric from Trump administration officials. "And elections are the clearest expression of public support."
Marijuana legislation passed in eight of the nine states it was on the ballot in November.
"We are watching the emergence of a multi-billion dollar industry," Blumenauer said, pointing to the "tens of billions" generated in tax dollars, and the increasing public acceptance of marijuana.
Recent polling indicates that 60% of adults support legalizing marijuana at the federal level.
"This is where the American public wants to go," Blumenauer said. "To do otherwise would be to precipitate yet another clash for an administration that seems to be bogged down on everything from immigration to healthcare.
"They don't want to pick a fight to be on the wrong side of the American public," he added.
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