Marijuana

Why is Rand Paul in Denver Today? Weed.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul visited Denver February 14 to meet with marijuana industry representatives.
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul visited Denver February 14 to meet with marijuana industry representatives. paul.senate.gov
Senator Rand Paul represents Kentucky, but he's hanging out in Denver today, February 14, to meet with a group of supporters. He's not running for president again, nor is his Senate seat up for grabs until 2022.

So why is he holding a closed-door event in Colorado? It has nothing to do with impeachment hearings, naming an alleged White House whistleblower or discussing YouTube's censorship policies, all of which have landed Paul in the news lately. Instead, he's here to meet with the weed industry.

Paul, a Republican who has embraced Tea Party politics, has found a base of support in several large portions of the legal marijuana industry, and has built a strong relationship with the National Cannabis Industry Association, one of legal pot's largest trade organizations. He started flying into Denver for fundraising meetings with the NCIA as early as 2015, and has cultivated relationships with marijuana industry representatives and lobbyists in Washington, D.C.

Although Paul's politics don't align with the majority of lawmakers embracing marijuana legalization — most of whom are Democrats — he's shown a willingness to favor states' rights over federal enforcement. And despite the pot industry's growing financial influence, it's still not going to be picky over who's supporting the plant in D.C. The Kentucky senator is co-sponsor of Colorado Congressman Ed Perlmutter's SAFE Banking Act, a bill that would protect banks and financial institutions serving state-legal marijuana businesses from federal drug or trafficking charges.

Paul's office didn't respond to requests for comment, but the NCIA sent Westword a statement elaborating on his meeting in Denver, noting that it hopes its relationship with Paul will rub off on Senate Majority Leader (and fellow Kentucky senator) Mitch McConnell, who has steadfastly opposed legalization.

"Senator Paul has been a long-time supporter of cannabis policy reform, and is a cosponsor of the SAFE Banking Act. We are meeting to express our gratitude and to discuss ways in which we can move effective banking reform through the Senate this session," the NCIA statement reads. "We're also hoping he can convince his fellow Kentucky senator to lighten up on this issue and prioritize hearings on cannabis legislation."

The SAFE Banking Act passed the House last September, but has been sitting idle in the Senate for several months. Right now, it's not McConnell blocking the legislation, but Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo, who has expressed concerns regarding marijuana legalization's impact on public health and safety, and has proposed severely cutting back the THC potency of commercial pot products before moving the SAFE Banking Act forward.

In January, Perlmutter and his fellow bill sponsors in the House sent Crapo a public letter asking him to move the SAFE Banking Act forward, but earlier this week, Colorado Congressmen Ken Buck and Doug Lamborn and ten other House members who'd voted against the measure sent a letter to Crapo praising his lack of action.

Last summer, Paul said he'd talked with Crapo about SAFE, suggesting the Idaho senator move the bill forward. So far, though, it remains stalled.
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.
Contact: Thomas Mitchell