Denver NORML executive director Jordan Person and six other members of the organization recently returned from a lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., and based on her experiences, members of Congress are not just more comfortable talking about marijuana issues these days. They're really into it.
"The tone was completely different from last year," Person says. "Last year, I felt like people were almost somber. But this year, it seemed like it was the cool thing to be part of cannabis policy."
The numbers bear out Person's observations. Until the past few years, legislation addressing marijuana prohibition on the federal level was rare. In some sessions, a handful of measures might be introduced. During others, a single bill might be submitted.
And today? "There are currently 59 pieces of marijuana legislation waiting to be heard," Person reveals. "That's the most we've ever had in history."
Moreover, a new proposal dropped while the Denver NORML contingent was in the nation's capital: the Marijuana Data Collection Act, sponsored by Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard and Florida rep Carlos Curbelo.
Person describes the act like so: "We now have 31 states that have legalized medical marijuana and nine that have legalized recreational. But none of them are required to collect data about how many people are no longer using opioids because they're using cannabis instead, for example. So this act would require that data be collected regarding state legislation, looking at the impact on criminal justice, the economy and many other issues. That data would help guide future legislation, ensure that federal polices will be specific to each issue, and put in writing that the sky hasn't fallen — and prove it with data coming out of every state that will allow us to create even better laws."
Members of Congress from Colorado have their names on plenty of marijuana-related legislation. Democratic Senator Michael Bennet is a co-sponsor of the Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2017, the SAFE Banking Act of 2017 and 2018 and the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act of 2017 and 2018, among other bills. Representative Diana DeGette is a sponsor of the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2017 and 2018. And rep Jared Polis has been such an advocate for progressive marijuana laws that NORML's national political wing has endorsed his bid to become governor of Colorado.
But Republicans have been getting into the act, too. Senator Cory Gardner is sponsoring the so-called STATES Act in conjunction with Massachusetts's Elizabeth Warren, his ideological opposite on most issues, and he's also behind the Therapeutic Hemp Medical Access Act of 2017 and 2018 and the MEDS Act of 2017 and 2018. And even Representative Ken Buck, a previous co-sponsor of the No Welfare for Weed Act of 2015, which called for marijuana products to be specifically excluded from items that could be purchased with food stamps, is supportive of the aforementioned Small Business Tax Equity Act.
Moreover, Person reveals, the staffers in Buck's office "seemed much more interested in talking to us this year. I feel like more legislators in Colorado are accepting of marijuana policy, since these laws are part of our state. To me, it seems like the tide is starting to turn."
While Buck didn't meet personally with the Denver NORML delegation, DeGette took time out of her schedule to do so, as seen in the photo at the top of this post. To Person, that's a further indication that members of Congress are more favorably disposed to talking about marijuana reform. Regarding DeGette, she says, "I feel honored that she sat down with us — and she seemed excited to meet with us."
Representatives and senators from outside Colorado gave off a similar vibe, Person notes. "It seemed like everyone wanted to say they were one of the first people to support the STATES Act. That was seen as a cool thing, regardless of what the current administration wants. They're going to go for it, because they see that's what the country wants."
Indeed, a new Harris poll found that 85 percent of respondents thought medical marijuana should be legalized, with 57 percent in favor of the same approach to recreational cannabis.
Denver NORML's seven-strong contingent was its largest to date, and Person is optimistic about the future. In her words, "There's a lot of great legislation out there that can really shape our country to support marijuana policy nationwide. This is my fourth year in a row going, and I've never felt like this before."