Congress is a lot like college in that everyone has a club to join. Caucuses are the special interest clubs of Congress, a way to make sure every last member has a pet project they can promote and accomplishments to tout when they go home to shake hands, kiss babies and wrangle votes. There are more than 100 congressional caucuses. There’s the Adult Literacy Caucus, the Bike Caucus, the Bourbon Caucus, the Homelessness Caucus, the Shellfish Caucus, and the Ski and Snowboard Caucus.
Now, for the first time, there is a Congressional Cannabis Caucus.
Made up of four members of the House of Representatives, the bipartisan caucus will promote legislation and policy reforms that diminish the gap between federal and state legislation on marijuana. The roster includes Dana Rohrabacher, R-California; Don Young, R-Alaska; Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon; and Jared Polis, D-Colorado, each of whom comes from a state where pot has been approved for both medicinal and recreational use.
“We’re stepping forward together to say we’ve got to make major changes in our country’s attitude toward cannabis,” Rep. Rohrabacher said at a press conference announcing the group. “And if we do, many people are going to live better lives, it’s going to be better for our country, better for people, and it makes economic sense at a time when every penny must count for government.”
The U.S. marijuana industry rung up $6.7 billion in legal sales in 2017, according to an analysis by ArcView Group, a marijuana industry consulting firm. That sum is anticipated to grow considerably after eight more states, including California, passed marijuana referendums in 2016. Currently, eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana in some form, and 28 states have legalized medical marijuana.
While the Obama administration settled on a laissez faire policy of letting the state’s decide, Trump and his new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, may be less hands off. Sessions makes no secret of his anti-pot feelings, saying that “good people don’t smoke marijuana” and cannabis is “only slightly less awful” than heroin.
Trump has intimated that he’ll let medical marijuana laws stand, but gave no such assurances for the recreational statutes that are gaining steam.
Which is where the Cannabis Caucus comes in. The group has backed legislation that would treat marijuana more like alcohol, reduce federal oversight and restrictions, and improve the business environment for the industry (aka let you use your credit card on that eighth of OG Kush).
Republican – California
Rohrabacher has been down with the green for some time now. He leans libertarian, is an advocate for states’ rights, and he’s backed up his pro-marijuana statements with real legislation. Rohrabacher introduced and eventually won passage of a budget amendment that prohibits the Justice Department from spending money on impeding the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. He has also introduced laws to protect access to pot, and supports removing weed from the list of Schedule I drugs, the highest classification in the Drug Enforcement Agency rankings, where it’s joined by heroin, MDMA and Quaaludes.
Fun fact: In 2016, Rohrabacher publicly acknowledged using a cannabis-infused topical rub, obtained legally in California, to treat arthritis pain that was keeping him up at night.
Cannabis quote: “More than half the states allow people with serious illnesses to use marijuana and its derivatives. The vast majority of Americans—about 85 percent, according to recent polls—support this policy. What’s driving this surge is the realization by patients, researchers, and physicians that such treatment may offer enormous relief for numerous patients. I would lay this positive research against the more alarmist findings any day. It is cruel for political Washington to ignore humane sentiment for most Americans.” – National Review, 2014.
Reason to hold off on a campaign donation: Rohrabacher borders on tinfoil-hat territory with his denials of humans’ impact on global climate change. He once argued that “dinosaur flatulence” was responsible for a previous global warming cycle. Later, he said “global warming is a total fraud” and part of the liberal “game plan” to “create global government.”
Republican – Alaska
Also a big advocate of states’ rights, Young says he doesn’t personally advocate people use cannabis, but he does believe the federal government should stop treating weed as a Schedule I drug with no medicinal use.
The marijuana industry has to mostly deal in cash because federally-insured banks won’t touch it, and Young has made the industry’s banking woes one of his key issues.
“I’ve been around a long time and I’ve watched where a great amount of surplus cash is available, it causes lots of sideline problems,” Young said. “And my goal is to make sure … [marijuana company owners] can run it as a business, they can get loans from banks and put the revenue back into the banks as every other business does. I think that’s crucially important to make it work correctly.”
Fun fact: Young has represented the at-large Alaska congressional district (in other words, the whole state) since 1973.
“Alaska voted to legalize it—pretty large margin—and I believe in states’ rights and the federal government should stay out of it, period.”
Reason to hold off on a campaign donation: Young has a knack for putting his foot in his mouth. He described laborers on his father’s ranch where he grew up as “wetbacks,” defended cuts to federal spending on the arts because it leads to “offensive” material such as depictions of “buttfucking,” and said environmentalists “are not Americans, never have been Americans, never will be Americans.”
Democrat – Oregon
In 2013, Blumenauer co-authored the report “The Path Forward: Rethinking Federal Marijuana Policy” along with Polis. The paper reviews marijuana laws and regulations, and proposes areas where federal policy needs reform. He supports legislation that would defer to state laws, establish a system for taxing and regulating cannabis, allow for hemp cultivation, address banking and other industry business issues, and remove marijuana from DEA regulation.
Cannabis Quote: “This is happening all across the country, and it’s going to continue. The industry is growing, as is public acceptance and demand for medical marijuana.”
Reason to hold off on a campaign donation: In 1996 Blumenauer voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, which explicitly stated a marriage could only be between a male and a female, a law that was eventually ruled unconstitutional.
Democrat – Colorado
An opponent of the war on drugs, Polis is consistently progressive and also the first openly gay parent in Congress. He challenged marijuana’s Schedule I classification, and sponsored a bill that would decriminalize marijuana possession, cease DEA regulation of the drug under the controlled substances act and transfer authority to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The act also gives authority to the Food and Drug Administration to regulate marijuana as it does booze.
Fun fact: Before he was a politician Polis was an entrepreneur. He helped take his parents’ greeting card company online, then sold the digital card business, bluemountain.com, for a hefty $780 million in 1999—just before the dotcom crash.
“Just as the policy of prohibition failed nationally with alcohol—it’s now up to states and counties—I think we should do the same with marijuana.”
Reason to hold off on a campaign donation: In 2011 Polis and Sen. Joe Lieberman introduced the Race to the Top Act, an education bill that favored charter schools and compensating teachers based on student performance. Just ask any educator how controversial those two issues are.