Politics

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Pot’s Favorite Congressman, is Optimistic

By Hilary Corrigan May 14, 2020
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Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) has high hopes for cannabis, even in the time of coronavirus.

“This crisis is a unique opportunity” for the industry, the Oregon Democrat and longtime legalization supporter said during a Wednesday webinar. “We have more momentum…than I’ve seen” in more than 30 years of working on the issue. “People depend on the product, on the service, on the impact it has in their communities.”

The “essential” designation most legal states gave to cannabis businesses recognizes both that many users consider the drug medicine and that the industry generates jobs and tax dollars. The latter, Blumenauer predicts, will advance the industry now. “State and local governments are going to be hungry for this revenue,” he said.

The HEROES Act

This week, Democratic Congressional leadership proposed legislation to provide an additional $3 trillion in stimulus. The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act includes a measure championed by the cannabis industry which would allow banks and other financial institutions to work with cannabis businesses in states where they operate legally. The House could vote on the bill as soon as Friday.

The Democrat-controlled House passed a similar bill, the SAFE Banking Act, with bipartisan support in October. It subsequently ran aground in the Senate Banking Committee, chaired by Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Id.). Republican lawmakers have criticized the HEROES Act as too broad and no one expects it to clear the Senate in its current form.

During Wednesday’s webinar, which was hosted by marketing firm Advance 360, Blumenauer called the bill the beginning of the process. He said it helps draw attention to the industry which thus far has been excluded from federal COVID relief. “We need to make sure we’ve got a seat at the table,” he said.

The public’s interest

Blumenauer urged legalization supporters to emphasize cannabis’ benefits for the economy. Some Republicans, he noted, face threats in competitive election races once deemed safe. “This is an issue that is in their interest to advance,” he said. In polls, a majority of Republicans consistently favor REC legalization. 

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) is one Republican who has supported legalization efforts. Earlier this year he expressed optimism that the SAFE Banking Act could pass the Senate. Gardner also co-sponsored, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a bill to protect state-legal REC and MED activity. Gardner, considered among the most vulnerable Senate incumbents, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Essential, but illegal

Blumenauer has seen bursts of energy on cannabis starting in the 1990s with the beginning of MED legalization and again in recent years as more states legalized REC. “We are building now for another round,” he said. Webinar panelists echoed Blumenauer’s optimism even as they discussed the pandemic’s toll.

The immediate and nearly unanimous “essential” designation from states shows that regulators, states and lawmakers are starting to reach a consensus on the industry’s legitimacy and benefits, said Katie Neer, director of government affairs for MSO Acreage Holdings.

Paul Josephson, a lawyer with firm Duane Morris, said strong retail sales have followed the essential designation. But he added capital markets remain largely closed to the industry.

With the pandemic, panelist Christopher Melillo, senior vice president of MSO Curaleaf, said he expects lean, smart, strategic companies to succeed like they can in any industry during a downturn. “A good learning lesson for almost any industry is how to get through a tough time,” he said.