U.S. Representative Jared Polis

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Denver Post Op-Ed: Leave cannabis regulation to the states, Mr. President

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Washington, April 14, 2017 | comments

It turns out we are more the rule than the exception here in Colorado: A majority of Americans now live in an area that allows legal access to recreational or medical marijuana. You only have to look to the success of Colorado to see why the legalization of cannabis has occurred throughout the nation.

Colorado has proven that allowing responsible adults to legally purchase marijuana gives money to classrooms rather than cartels; creates jobs rather than addicts; and boosts the economy rather than the prison population. Even still, the new Trump administration has failed to articulate a clear policy on where it stands on the federal regulation of marijuana. Instead, states and the industry have been trying to read between the lines of contradictory statements from the new administration.

Other states have decriminalized possession of marijuana or made medical marijuana accessible.  The reality is that we can’t go backward.

At stake is a growing industry that has created 23,000 jobs and generated $200 million in tax revenue in Colorado. Nationally, the legal cannabis industry is projected to create a quarter million jobs by 2020 and recreational sales could climb to $13.3 billion.

There is a social impact to that uncertainty as well. Last year, I met a highly decorated veteran who sustained injuries after being wounded by a roadside IED while serving in Iraq. His story is a compelling one, not only for his commitment to our nation and personal strength, but also because he chose to cope with his injuries by using medical cannabis instead of opioids, which worked for him with far fewer severe side effects.

With the states and federal government seeking ways to combat the growing opioid crisis, there is evidence that medical marijuana could provide part of a solution. In 2014, data from the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that medical cannabis laws are associated with significantly lower (24.8 percent) state-level opioid overdose mortality rates.

Because of these reasons, I am not waiting for the administration to decide the fate of the marijuana industry. I have proposed several legislative changes that would solve the federal-state tension and continue to advocate that the new Trump administration leave in place existing policies while Congress works through the legislative process.

The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, a bill I just reintroduced, ends the federal prohibition on marijuana and establishes a federal regulatory structure that leaves states as the ultimate decision maker on marijuana legalization. Just as there is a legitimate federal interest in keeping alcohol and cigarettes (which have been met with some degree of success) out of the hands of minors, so too would there be renewed efforts to prevent minors from using marijuana.

In addition, I have worked across the aisle on an amendment that would prohibit the Dept. of Justice from using resources to interfere with state marijuana laws. Given how much the marijuana policy landscape has changed since November, I believe that this amendment has the support to pass. Finally, I started the bipartisan Congressional Cannabis Caucus to discuss and educate members of Congress on policy related to marijuana legalization, including access to mainstream financial services and tax revenue.

But until change to federal law can be made, the Trump administration should retain the Cole Memorandum, instead of pursuing a review of existing policies in a federal task force. Issued in 2013, the memorandum provided guidance to prosecutors and law enforcement on how to prioritize marijuana enforcement. The Cole Memo has allowed the federal government to prioritize investigating and stopping the illegal drug trade and associated crimes, instead of focusing on highly regulated industries, such as marijuana in Colorado.

The federal government can no longer turn a blind eye to this rapidly expanding industry. The Trump administration’s refusal to take a stance on the regulation of cannabis only further hinders our businesses and medical options, causing worry about arbitrarily or even politically motivated selective enforcement. I will continue to advocate and fight for pragmatic marijuana policy in Congress, and it’s about time our president tells us where exactly he stands on marijuana.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat, represents Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District.

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