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Colorado Part Of New Congressional Cannabis Caucus

Stephanie Paige Ogburn

Citing the need for a “professional presentation” to Congress and the American people, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) announced the newly-formed Congressional Cannabis Caucus at a news conference Feb. 16. The caucus, which includes four Democratic and Republican representatives from states that have legalized marijuana, plans to focus on freeing up banking and tax regulations, opening up research dollars and removing marijuana from the federal list of illegal drugs.

“The four of us represent districts, and our constituency will be hurt by overreaching federal authority between federal and state marijuana laws,” said Rep. Jared Polis, Democrat of Colorado.

“We’ve introduced a flood of bipartisan, bicameral legislation to address the issues around marijuana, we hope to be able to see some of those come into law this session,” Polis said.

Rohrabacher also said protecting the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which prevents any federal money and agents from superseding state law where medical marijuana has been legalized, is a priority.  

Rep. Earl Blunemauer, (D-Ore.) spoke of making sure that veterans have access marijuana and cannabis through the Veterans Affairs in states where it is legal.

“We need to deal with their practical business needs,” Blunemauer said, citing the need to reform the industry’s banking and tax codes, specifically the IRS code known as 280E. The code, aimed at illegal drug traffickers, states that regardless of whether a cannabis business is legal under state law, the business can’t deduct expenses from their income. This leads to a much higher tax rate under the current tax code.

“And they have to pay those unfair taxes in cash, because of the banking prohibition which is insane,” Blunemauer said. 

Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young said he was part of the caucus due to the “banking issue” and his belief in state’s rights.

“Alaska voted to legalize it, a pretty large margin, and I believe in states’ rights and the federal government should stay out of it, period,” he said.

Credit National Conference of State Legislatures
National Conference of State Legislatures
The majority of Americans live in states where marijuana is legal in some capacity.

The nation's entire cannabis industry could be in for major upheaval with the recent appointment of Jeff Sessions as U.S. attorney general. The congressman admitted they had not yet spoken to Sessions about their caucus.

In the past, Sessions has said he believes marijuana should remain illegal under federal law. As attorney general, he could rescind federal guidelines put in place under the Obama administration which state that the federal government will not enforce federal marijuana law in states that have legalized it, as long as those states establish strict regulations. 

A shake up on the federal level could cost Colorado billions of dollars. The state’s dispensaries sold more than $1 billion of cannabis in 2016, a record according to the Colorado Department of Revenue. From those sales, Colorado collected $199 million in taxes and fees which are used for law enforcement, school construction projects and public health.

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