Political Analyst – Derek Thomas
On Thursday, February 16, 2017 a few bi-partisan legislators launched the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. Representatives Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from California; Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon; Don Young, a Republican from Alaska; and Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado launched the first of its kind caucus at a press conference in Washington DC. Watch the press conference below.
The goal of the caucus, “to harmonize federal laws that prohibit medical and recreational cannabis use with state laws that permit it” was expected by most to be an uphill (pun intended) battle. Specifically, they want to begin effecting change by increasing medical research into cannabis and changing regulations on banking and taxation for cannabis businesses. But to be clear, the caucus intends to work to ensure individual states have rights to these pursuits, their intention is not to achieve federal legalization.
And the starting team to pull this off looked strong. Technical420 has often mentioned cannabis actually becoming one of the few uniting issues in American politics, and the cannabis caucus proved that true. Having representatives from both sides of the aisle and from the two most widely regarded cannabis states (Colorado and California) certain seemed to imply leverage, influence, and exposure.
The timing couldn’t have been more crucial either. Launching shortly after the appointment of prohibitionist Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, the caucus was shaping up to look exactly like what the country needed to counter the Alabama gremlin.
How successful has the caucus been? How do we even define success? We certainly can’t hold them accountable for marijuana not being federally legal, it’s not even their goal. Baby steps (or at least small adult steps) right? In the stew of Washington DC mistrust and backroom deals, can we be sure these guys really have marijuana’s best interest at heart? Let’s take a look at what they have done individually for marijuana and what the caucus as a whole has achieved. The most rational judgement may come from dissecting their achievements in relations to their goals.
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), the two founding members of the caucus, both have respectable achievements even before they started the caucus. Congressman Rohrabacher coauthored the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which was passed by the 113th Congress in 2014. The amendment prevented the Department of Justice from using its funding to challenge states that have approved medical cannabis laws. In 2017, he was widely regarded for ensuring its extension – which was widely seen not only as continuing protection for pro-marijuana states, but as a direct rebuke of Jeff Sessions and his prohibitionist policies.
Meanwhile, Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) supported the Oregon ballet measure 91 in 2014, which legalized recreational cannabis in Oregon.
Additionally (and of course), Rohrabacher endorsed the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which legalized recreational cannabis in California in 2016. But he took it a step further when he acknowledged using medical cannabis to treat his arthritis!
Props, fellas. But you’re only as good as your last success. What success (or attempts at success) have been made since the caucus formed?
That’s very debatable.
The caucus did add another member, representative Ed Perlmutter, a Democrat from Colorado. Not too impressive, especially considering over 30 states now have legal or medical marijuana of some kind.
We wouldn’t be concerned with who was a member as long as they were advancing pro-marijuana legislation though. There are currently 22 pieces of marijuana legislation before the 115th U.S. Congress – more than ever in history.
Yet, this amount of legislation may be a hindrance to the pro-marijuana agenda and a strike against the Cannabis Caucus. Of the 22 pieces of legislation, only 6 were introduced by Cannabis Caucus members and half were introduced by Representative Blumenauer himself.
The caucus seems to be lacking effectiveness in organizing what is clearly a large amount of pro marijuana support behind a few bills. When senators have competing pieces of similar legislation, it often acts as a splintering or divisive point rather than a uniting one. Representatives score major political points in the districts or states if their piece is voted into legislation, and the often receive campaign funding based on the legislation they have introduced.
The Cannabis Caucus could be much more effective in uniting the movement so to act as a unified front, which is much more favorable to the current self-serving pot popularity contest being ran as individuals.
Let’s also consider the lack of traditionally red states that could be brought into the fold – Kentucky and North Carolina, for example, are growing thousands of acres of industrial hemp this year. Often their concerns align directly with states pursing marijuana: banking, federal crack downs, interstate commerce, etc. It seems they would make valuable allies, and yet they are completely absence not just from the caucus, but from each-others conversations and bills.
Objectively, what the Cannabis Caucus represents, symbolically, cannot be denied. The four founding members deserve our thanks and praise, but also our watchful eye. It’s also worth noting that despite the rise of Jeff Sessions and other prohibitionists in Trump’s cabinet, we have not regressed or lost positive pot momentum. These are two big wins for the caucus.
But they still have much to prove. It will be worth paying attention to which bills pass over the next few months, and what the caucus’ hands in those bills were. Additionally, worthy of our attention on the caucus will be how they grow their membership, and what their motives may really be for founding the caucus. If it turns out to be for campaign funding or – gulp – corporate attempts to take over marijuana we will certainly call them out.