Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., right, accompanied by Rep. Earl Blumenaurer, D-Ore., speaks during a news conference about marijuana laws on Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014, at Capitol Hill in Washington. (Lauren Victoria Burke, The Associated Press)

Cannabis in Congress: Weed-friendly states making noise on Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON — Members of Congress from states with legal pot urged their colleagues Thursday not to stand in the way of expanded legalization and to approve measures that would make it easier for marijuana businesses to operate.

Voters in Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia approved ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana possession last week. Those places would join Colorado and Washington state, which already have legal pot.

Amid close midterm elections around the country, “there was one clear winner: ending our failed prohibition of marijuana and instead legalizing, regulating and taxing adult use,” Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon said at a news conference with three House colleagues.

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Drug-reform advocates are planning to push legalization initiatives in California and other states in 2016. Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California said he expects voters in his state would approve an initiative. Polls show a majority of Americans favor legalization.

“My message to my fellow Republicans is wake up and see where the American people are, but also see what the fundamental principles are in this debate,” Rohrabacher said, citing individual liberty, limited government and doctors’ freedom to make the best decisions for their patients. He said his support for California’s medical marijuana program has helped him politically, even in his conservative Orange County district.

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Among the initiatives approved last week, the one in the nation’s capital faces the bumpiest path to implementation. The initiative will be sent to Congress for a review period that could last several months, and opponents could try to stop it with an amendment to an essential piece of legislation, such as a spending bill. Republican Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland has vowed to use every means at his disposal to try to block legal pot in the District out of fears that it would harm children.

Legalization advocates argue that taking pot out of the underground market and into regulated dispensaries makes it more difficult for children to obtain.

Blumenauer, Rohrabacher and two other colleagues — Democratic Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado and Democratic Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District but cannot vote on the House floor — said they have bipartisan support for two small measures that would allow legal pot companies to open bank accounts and to deduct business expenses from their taxes. They also hope to allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to prescribe medical marijuana.

In addition to the states that have legalized pot, medical marijuana is available in 23 states, and 18 have decriminalized possession of small amounts.

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Blumenauer said the “knockout punch” for the federal government would be to reclassify marijuana so that it’s no longer a Schedule 1 controlled substance, but he added that executive action would be the simplest path toward that goal.

“It’s widely accepted that the current system makes no sense,” he said.


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Two views on Election 2014

Pro-legalization: Legalization advocate Mason Tvert on pot’s big wins, losses on Election Day

Anti-legalization: Pot legalization opponent Kevin Sabet on cannabis’ big day at the ballot box