On Wednesday, May 3, Representative Jared Polis will host the inaugural Marijuana Big Thinker Talks in Washington, D.C., bringing in experts from across the country. The conversations begin at 8:30 a.m. in D.C., 6:30 a.m. in Denver, and Polis's keynote will be live-streamed on his Facebook page at 10:15 a.m. MDT.
"Times have changed over the past few years, and I'm thrilled to be hosting the first-ever Marijuana Big Thinker Talks at the United States Capitol," Polis said in announcing the gathering yesterday. "I hope lawmakers will use these discussions as a resource to understand the legitimacy of the cannabis industry. Now that a majority of Americans reside in a part of the country that has legalized medical or recreational cannabis, it's time for Congress to act and pass federal cannabis legislation."
Speakers include Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett, who will speak about medical cannabis, and Andrew Freedman, the former marijuana czar of Colorado, who will address legalization.
"This is one of the first chances to talk directly to Congress's members about something that's now spread to 29 states, and I think the idea of having a very real policy talk rather than the same old tired debates we've been having forever — I think that alone is pretty groundbreaking," Freedman says. "Ten years ago you could never imagine a talk like this happening, and here we are, having a very real substantive forum about what it would look like to legalize marijuana."
Freedman anticipates that some of the conversations will focus on whether states should legalize marijuana, but his speech is titled "Let's Stop Asking 'Should we Legalize Marijuana?'" Instead, he suggests that it's time to prepare for the inevitability that's on the horizon.
"Everybody else is going to have this divisive talk about whether you should legalize marijuana. Some people have to be talking about how — what it looks like and how to — regardless of where you stand on the debate," Freedman says.
Polis's office asked Garnett to address immigration and marijuana convictions, but he says that's only a small part of what he plans to discuss. "What I've prepared to talk about is general law enforcement perspectives, so I'll talk about rates of use among school-age kids, DUI marijuana cases, and the weakening of the black market," Garnett explains. "I will also talk about the fact that with marijuana remaining a schedule 1 controlled substance, the conviction — even a low-level conviction for marijuana possession — can lead to deportation, which I think is a pretty disproportionate consequence."
Garnett says he appreciates the chance to speak, since there is so much misinformation about what is really happening in Colorado.
"I have similar views about marijuana, which is that it should be delisted as a schedule 1 substance federally and that legalization and regulation is working pretty well in Colorado," Garnett says. "What I've found in the work that I've done is that there is a lot of confusion around the country about what's actually happening on the ground in Colorado. So when I was asked to speak, I agreed to do it because I appreciate the opportunity to tell other people around the country about what actually is happening in Colorado rather than them listening to some of the urban legends that some folks spread."
Freedman is also taking a practical approach. He plans to talk about what he learned in Colorado, and to go through public-safety issues that regulators faced here. He thinks there's common ground among the states, whether or not they've legalized marijuana.
"Everybody that wants it or doesn't want it all care about public health, public safety, youth prevention," Freedman notes, "and here are things we all agree we should do to maintain public health, public safety and keeping it out of the hands of kids. "I'm going to try and take it away from the divisive part of it and dive into substantive issues around legalization."
If you're in D.C. on May 3 and want to attend the event at the Rayburn House Office Building, you can register here. Here's the schedule, with D.C. times:
8:30 a.m. Authenticity and Advocacy: Gail Rand, Patient Advocate for ForwardGro
9 a.m. How to Neutralize Third Rail Issues Like Drug Policy Reform for Elected Officials: Sanho Tree, Director of Drug Policy Project at Institute for Policy Studies
9:30 a.m. The Use of Medical Cannabinoids & Health Care Options in Regulated States: Dr. Ken Miller & Nial DeMena, Manna Molecular Science
10 a.m. Marijuana Business 101: How to Pay Your 80% Income Tax Rate in Cash to the IRS – A Primer: Rachel Gillette, Cannabis Attorney with Greenspoon Marder P.A.
10:30 a.m. Immigration Policy and Marijuana Convictions: Stan Garnett, Boulder County D.A.
11 a.m. Let’s Stop Asking “Should We Legalize Marijuana?”: Andrew Freedman, Co-Founder and Partner Freedman Koski, Inc
11:30 a.m. Marijuana, Veterans, and Healthy Living: Mikey Sorensen and Keven Roelfs, Veteran Philanthropists
12:15 p.m. Keynote Conversation: Congressman Jared Polis, NFL Legend Rick Upchurch, Founder of the Gridiron Cannabis Foundation, and Al Harrington, Former NBA Player and Cannabis Activist
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.