U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., talks with The Cannabist's Alicia Wallace on Tuesday, April 18, 2017 in Denver. (Lindsay Pierce, The Denver Post)

“The DEA has lost its moral authority”: Rep. Jared Polis pulls no punches in exclusive interview

In his eight years on Capitol Hill, Congressman Jared Polis has doggedly championed cannabis legalization.

For the Democrat from Colorado, it’s a matter of personal freedom, a means toward more a effective criminal justice system, and a potential boost for local and regional economies. It’s also policy that a majority of voters in his home state want: Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 2000 and then became the first U.S. state to have legal, regulated sales of recreational marijuana in 2014.

Polis pulled no punches in an exclusive marijuana-focused interview with The Cannabist in Denver just days before 4/20. Scroll down for video in which the congressman discusses his personal views; policy positions and proposed legislation; the newly formed Cannabis Caucus; the DEA’s failure on medical marijuana; and what he’d say to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

On why he champions legal cannabis

“Look, these are decisions that people get to make in life. To somehow say that just because you happen to choose to use marijuana you’re some kind of criminal is not only offensive, but it’s really counter-productive as a society in terms of shifting money away from businesses to cartels, having police waste their time on something of no public safety consequence, and putting good people potentially in jail and in court.”

On the prospect for passing marijuana reform legislation in the current Congress

“The bills, like Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, it’s a tough-going, because procedurally it has to flow through committees whose chairmen are not friendly toward medicinal or recreational cannabis. So the best route … would be to go around leadership with these floor amendments (Rohrabacher-Blumenauer and McClintock-Polis). It doesn’t matter if Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell or Kevin McCarthy vote against them, if you have sufficient votes on the floor to pass them, they become part of those appropriations bills … and no federal funds can be used to enforce federal laws in areas where it’s legal in a state, as long as you’re following state law,” he said.

“That’s what I think we have an operational majority to do. So that’s step 1. It might take a few more years to get to the whole enchilada.”

On the Cannabis Caucus and Attorney General Sessions

“I would point out the imperative¬†— for Colorado but also states where over 60 percent of the American people live — that they get with the times, look at the data and allow the states the room to come out with the right way to regulate marijuana,” he said.

“And that’s not where he is today, but the more he hears it, the more people he hears it from, the better, and he needs to catch up from the age of Reefer Madness to the 21st Century.¬†We’ve got to bring him there over the course of the next few months.”

On the DEA’s stance on medical marijuana

(Watch the full video at the top of this post)

“The DEA has lost their moral authority in this matter, which is sad and dangerous for us as a nation, because we are suffering under the scourge of meth abuse and opioid abuse. … This is ripping families apart. People are dying. It’s awful. And yet the DEA is removing their eye from the ball and they’re saying we’re going to classify CBDs as Schedule I and we’re going to bust somebody who’s trying to help their migraines. I mean, this is a huge disservice for the public health, huge disservice to our country, and it’s why, of course, the DEA should reschedule marijuana. That doesn’t solve all of our issues, but at least it allows for medicinal use and testing. But two, Congress needs to take this up, because we can’t allow this DEA to continue to act as a rogue agency. Too many lives are at risk.”

On “Big Marijuana” concerns and the business of legal cannabis

“I think so and, you know, some of that comes back to the public and municipal and county and state regulatory apparatus, right? We certainly, for instance, have independent liquor stores in our state because we only allow grocery stores to sell liquor in one (store). You could certainly have municipal rules that nobody can own more than one dispensary in your boundaries. You could have state rules about size, so it’s entirely up to policy-makers and your elected officials whether this winds up as one super-chain of 50 dispensaries or whether they’re all independently owned or operated or somewhere in-between.”