(Photo credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)
A bipartisan group of lawmakers are teaming up in Congress to protect marijuana policy gains and to push for broader reform.
The cannabis caucus is set to be officially announced during a 2 p.m. EST press conference on Thursday, Feb. 16, according to U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s (D-OR) website .
Blumenauer, along with Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO) and Don Young (R-AK), are founding members of the new caucus. All four lawmakers represent states where voters have legalized recreational marijuana for adult use.
“This is happening all across the country, and it’s going to continue,” Blumenauer, a longtime legalization advocate, told Roll Call . “The industry is growing, as is public acceptance and demand for medical marijuana.”
Eight states and the District of Columbia have now legalized marijuana for adult recreational use, and 28 states have legalized comprehensive medical cannabis programs. The drug remains illegal for all purposes at the federal level, however.
The Justice Department took a largely hands-off approach to state marijuana laws during President Obama’s administration, operating on presidential directives not to interfere with states’ implementation of voter-approved marijuana laws.
But the legal cannabis industry now faces great uncertainty as President Donald Trump settles into office with top cabinet picks like Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Vice President Mike Pence, who are both openly hostile to marijuana policy reform.
Trump has previously voiced support for state marijuana laws, but it’s not clear if his administration plans to maintain or roll back Obama-era Justice Department directives on state marijuana legalization.
Legal cannabis sales across North America hit $6.7 billion in 2016, according to ArcView Market Research. The industry has created tens of thousands of jobs and is now generating much-needed tax revenues for states like Colorado and Oregon. Legalization supporters remain hopeful that the high costs of cracking down on an industry this size may insulate it from aggressive federal interference at this point.
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BARCELONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 22: Marijuana buds named 'Old School' are seen in a cannabis club on August 22, 2014 in Barcelona, Spain. Under Spanish law marijuana can be consumed and grown for personal use. According to self-regulated Cannabis Associations of Catalonia (FEDCAC) and Cannabis Associations Federation of Catalonia (CATFAC) there are currently more than 650 cannabis clubs in Spain, 55 of which are regulated under the Code of Good Practice by these associations. The clubs are for members only, who have to be Spanish residents over 21 years of age, and who are introduced to the club by an existing member. More than half of the cannabis clubs can be found in Barcelona, where authorities are have imposed a one-year moratorium on new licenses for cannabis associations and it is searching for new ways to regulate these clubs as they are becoming increasingly popular. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Cannabis legalization advocates generally see Trump’s Vice President Mike Pence as bad news for the marijuana reform movement. The former Indiana governor opposed numerous marijuana reform initiatives in his home state, where possession of any amount of cannabis still carries the possibility of $1,000 in fines and up to 180 days in jail. Although vice-presidential powers are limited, Pence’s anti-marijuana sentiments could influence the Trump administration’s approach to drug policy. [Photo credit: John Moore/Getty Images]
Trump’s Chief of Staff Reince Priebus stated publicly in 2014 that he was “not a big fan” of Colorado’s recreational marijuana law, as reported by The Denver Post. [Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images]
Former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who was sworn in as the Trump administration’s secretary of state on Feb. 1, worked for decades in the private sector and doesn’t have a lengthy drug policy track record. He took some heat during Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearings when he refused to condemn Philippines leader Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody campaign to eradicate illegal drugs in his country. Duterte has encouraged police and vigilantes to shoot and kill drug dealers and has vowed to continue the crackdown until every drug criminal is dead, CNN reported. [Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images]
The Senate voted 88-11 to confirm Gen. John F. Kelly as the Trump administration’s Homeland Security Secretary on Jan. 20. Deputy director of Drug Policy Alliance’s office of national affairs, Michael Collins, has described Kelly as “a big-time drug war zealot” and calls his confirmation as the head of Homeland Security “incredibly worrying.” In 2014, Kelly told a Congressional hearing that U.S. marijuana legalization was undermining relations with Latin American countries, however, he has indicated support for medical cannabis, as reported by the Military Times. [Photo credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images]
Former Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo was confirmed as the head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on Jan. 24, NPR reported. In 2014, the Republican congressman voted against House Amendment 1086, which would have prohibited states from penalizing banks who provide financial services to state-legal marijuana businesses. The same year, Pompeo opposed House Amendment 748, which sought to prevent states from authorizing medical cannabis use. [Photo credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images]
The Senate voted Tuesday, Jan. 24, to confirm South Carolina Gov. Nikki R. Haley as the Trump administration’s ambassador to the United Nations, CNN reported. As governor of South Carolina, Haley approved legislation to legalize the medical use of low-THC cannabis oil for certain qualifying patients in 2014. She also signed the state’s Industrial Hemp Act into law the same year, according to the Tenth Amendment Center. [Photo credit: Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images]
Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs partner and hedge fund manager who was confirmed as Trump’s treasury secretary on Monday, Feb. 13, has indicated that he’s open to reforming banking laws to extend financial services to state-legal marijuana businesses. In a written response to confirmation hearing questions posed by Senate Finance Committee members in January 2017, Mnuchin acknowledged the marijuana industry’s lack of access to traditional financial services as a pressing issue. He committed to working “with Congress and the president to determine which provisions of the current tax code should be retained, revised or eliminated to ensure that all individuals and businesses compete of a level playing field.” [Photo credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images]
Former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Al), who was confirmed as U.S. attorney general on Feb. 8, has a long record of opposing marijuana reform initiatives. In 2016, Sessions said, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana” and described the drug as a “very real danger” and “not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized.” Sessions also spoke out against Justice Department officials working in the Obama administration for not aggressively cracking down on states that legalized marijuana in defiance of federal law, as reported by Politico. [Photo credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images]
Trump’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of the Interior has a somewhat mixed record on marijuana policy, according to Americans for Safe Access. As U.S. representative from Montana, Zinke voted in favor of Montana’s Therapeutic Marijuana Act in 2011, to provide medical cannabis access to patients with certain qualifying conditions. In 2015, Zinke voted in favor of the Veterans Equal Access amendment to extend medical cannabis access to veterans. However, he opposed the same amendment in 2016. Also in 2016, Zinke voted in favor of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which prohibits the Department of Justice from using federal funds to prosecute medical cannabis activities that are legal under state laws. [Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images]
Trump’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Republican and former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, doesn’t have a clear stance on marijuana policy. However, as governor, Perdue took a hardline stand against illegally manufactured methamphetamine in his state, passing legislation to strengthen criminal penalties for the manufacture, transfer and possession of the drug, according to On The Issues. Hemp industry members are hopeful Perdue’s background in commodities will help to further establish the U.S. hemp market, according to Hemp Business Journal. [Photo credit: Jason Getz/Getty Images]
David Shulkin, confirmed to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on Monday, Feb. 8, wrote in a 2016 letter to U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) that he "wholeheartedly agree[s] that VA should do all it can to foster open communication between Veterans and their VA providers, including discussion about participation in state marijuana programs." [Photo credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images]
U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), nominated to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, has opposed both medical and recreational marijuana legalization measures in Congress. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws gave Price a “D” on its 2016 Congressional Scorecard. [Photo credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images]
Trump’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, has consistently opposed state-level marijuana legalization, and is currently involved in a lawsuit filed in 2016 over his efforts to block a medical marijuana ballot measure as Oklahoma attorney general. In 2014, Pruitt teamed up with Nebraska’s attorney general and asked the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate Colorado’s legalization of marijuana for adult recreational use, though the Court rejected the challenge, as reported by the Associated Press. [Photo credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images]
Trump’s Energy Secretary nominee, former Republican presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, says he doesn’t personally support marijuana legalization, but he has voiced strong support for states’ rights to pass their own marijuana laws. Speaking on “The Hugh Hewitt Show” in 2014, Perry said: “I’m a big believer in the 10th Amendment. I don’t agree with those decisions that were made by that, by the state of Colorado or Washington, but I will defend it to my death, if you will, to allow them to make those decisions.” [Photo credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images]
Trump’s nominee to lead the Office of Management and Budget, U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), has supported a number of marijuana reform amendments in Congress, including measures aimed at extending medical cannabis access to military veterans and preventing the federal government from using federal funds to interfere with the implementation of state marijuana laws. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) gave Mulvaney a “B” on its 2016 Congressional Scorecard. [Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]
Gallery source links:
Mike Pence – Leafly , On The Issues , NORML ; Reince Priebus – The Denver Post ; Rex Tillerson – CNN , CNN ; John Kelly – CBS News , Drug Policy Alliance , Military Times ; Mike Pompeo – NPR , Vote Smart ; Nikki Haley – CNN , Tenth Amendment Center ; Steven Mnuchin – NBC News , Senate Committee on Finance ; Jeff Sessions – USA Today , Politico ; Ryan Zinke – Americans for Safe Access , Vote Smart ; Sonny Perdue – On The Issues ; Hemp Business Journal ; David Shulkin – Department of Veterans Affairs/Scribd ; Tom Price – NORML ; Scott Pruitt – Associated Press ; Rick Perry – “ The Hugh Hewitt Show ”; Mick Mulvaney – NORML