5 Democrats Turn Out to Support Legal Pot, And 3 Say They’ve Never Smoked It

June 6, 2013 - 10:00 AM

Medical Marijuana California

File -  The Apothecarium Medical Cannabis Dispensary in San Francisco.  (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, file)

(CNSNews.com) – At least five Democrats joined members of the National Cannabis Industry Association at a Capitol Hill press conference on Wednesday to urge passage of legislation that would make marijuana legal -- and taxable.

“We are asking to be taxed,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association. “We are one of the only industries in this country coming to D.C. asking, ‘Tax us.’ But tax us fairly.”

Democratic Reps. Dennis Heck (Wash.), Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), Ed Perlmutter (Colo.), Jared Polis (Colo.) and Barbara Lee (Calif.) also spoke in favor of pot legalization, prompting one reporter to ask, “For the members of Congress here, do any of you enjoy smoking marijuana yourself?”

The crowd laughed, but Heck literally ran to the podium to give an emphatic “no!”

Blumenauer also denied smoking marijuana, but said he’s been an advocate of legalizing it for many years.

“I cast my first vote to legalize marijuana 40 years ago as a child state legislator in Oregon,” Blumenauer said, adding that he has never smoked nor inhaled. “But I come to this from the perspective that prohibition is an absolute failure, and that the reason I voted for legalizing it 40 years ago is, it’s less addictive and destructive than cigarettes.”

Perlmutter said he has never smoked marijuana, either, but he supports legalization because of its reputed medical benefits.

“I would say, the answer to your question is ‘no’ for me, but I had a brother-in-law with melanoma, which eventually became brain cancer, and the only thing that gave him any relief was medical marijuana,” he said. Medical marijuana is now legal in Perlmutter’s home state of Colorado.

Polis didn’t say whether he’s ever smoked marijuana. But he did explain why he supports legalization.

“I had a late great-uncle that passed away from cancer two years ago, and he used medical marijuana in his final months to comfort him,” Polis said in response to the question. “But again, I think many members of Congress—we’re all parts of our communities. We all have friends that are directly impacted, people who have met with us in our offices. These are not unique stories, they’re not rare stories. They are good hard-working Colorado families that have benefited from the medical marijuana laws in Colorado over the last decade.”

Three new pieces of legislation were also discussed at the press conference. Perlmutter said that he and Heck would be introducing The Allowing Marijuana Businesses to Access Banking Act in the next few weeks. The legislation would allow legal marijuana-related businesses to access checking accounts, loans, and credit cards rather than operating on a purely cash basis, as they do now.

Polis introduced Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act (H.R. 499) in February. This bill would remove marijuana from the list of controlled substances, decriminalizing it at the federal level and removing the conflict between certain state laws and federal laws.

Lastly, the States’ Medical Marijuana Property Rights Protection Act (H.R. 784) was introduced in February by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).

“The Department of Justice has targeted the Berkley Patients Group (a medical marijuana outlet) for forfeiture, despite being in compliance with every state and local law. Businesses are being caught in the middle between state and federal laws, and we need to make sure that this stops. So to prevent this issue, I’ve introduced legislation H.R. 784, which is called the States’ Medical Marijuana Property Rights Protection Act,” Lee said at the news conference.

“This would prohibit exactly what happened, not just to the Berkley Patients Group but to many businesses represented here today. My bill would protect these types of dispensaries and would stop the threat of forfeitures by the Department of Justice.”

The National Cannabis Industry Association, which describes itself as the only national trade association for cannabis professionals, says its mission is to promote the growth of a “responsible and legitimate cannabis industry and to work for a favorable social, economic and legal environment for that industry in the United States.”

It says state-sanctioned medical cannabis businesses should be able to take the same tax deductions as other small businesses.

Eighteen states have legalized marijuana in some form. Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Michigan, Montana, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Alaska, and Hawaii have all legalized marijuana for medical purposes only.

Voters in Washington and Colorado legalized marijuana for adult recreational use in the 2012 election.