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Congressional Cannabis Caucus Unites to Protect Marijuana Industry

Twentyeight states have legalized marijuana to some extent but only four congressmen are advocating overtly for the industry.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The uncertainty created by President Donald Trump’s views on marijuana legalization -- especially recreational marijuana –--has led a four members of the House of Representatives from states that have legalized cannabis to band together on behalf of the cannabis industry.

David McNew | Getty Images

Led by Congress members from states where recreational marijuana is legal, the Congressional Cannabis Caucus will seek to sponsor legislation that aids the growing marijuana industry and fight attempts by the Trump Administration to crackdown on pot businesses.

Related: How to Grow a Cannabis Farming Business in the Blazing Marijuana Economy

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-California, is a founder of the caucus along with Rep. Earl Bluemenauer, an Oregon Democrat; Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat and Republican Rep. Don Young of Alaska.

Rohrabacher also has introduced legislation – The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act - to protect cannabis companies and individuals from federal prosecution in states where voters have legalized marijuana. The federal Drug Enforcement Agency still classifies pot as a Schedule I illegal drug.

Rohrabacher told Roll Call he is most concerned that the Trump Administration will go after recreational use.

“There are some areas that we need to focus on and make sure the Trump administration doesn’t go wholeheartedly in the wrong direction,” he said

 Why Form a Caucus?

The move to unite in a caucus comes amid a state of uncertainty about Trump’s plans, if any, for the legal cannabis industry.

Legal marijuana accounted for $6.7 billion in sales in 2016, a number expected to reach around $22 billion by 2020. That’s because 28 states now have legalized medical marijuana while eight have legal recreational marijuana, including large western states California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. Massachusetts and Maine also have joined the list of states with legalized recreational marijuana.

Related: 10 Cannabis Startups You Need to Watch

But – and it’s a very big “but” – the federal DEA continues to classify marijuana as illegal, dangerous and without any health benefits. That’s kept banks away from providing financial services to marijuana-related companies. Rules adopted by President Barack Obama’s administration allowed cannabis industries to operate safely in states where weed is legal, but there is no certainty that will remain the case.

Two issues concern pro-pot lawmakers and businesses

  • As much as he talks and Tweets, Trump has said nothing about legal marijuana since winning the election in November.  Everyone continues to hang their hat on comments he made in 2015, when during a campaign stop in Nevada he said legalization should be a state issue.
  • His newly installed Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the former senator from Alabama, is a longtime opponent of marijuana. As the top cop in the country, he has many options in curtailing or even stopping marijuana sales

Let States Decide

The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act introduced by Rohrbacher seeks to stop the conflict between state and federal laws on marijuana. The act exempts individuals and businesses from federal law as long as they comply with state cannabis law.

Related: Jeff Sessions Offers Cannabis Industry No Reassurance

In another words, the act would completely turn over laws on marijuana to states. State rights is an area that Republicans often back, although it remains to be seen if they will do so when the subject is cannabis.

This marks the third time Rohrbacher has introduced the legislation.

“This is commonsense legislation that is long overdue,” Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement on the organization’s site. “It is time to end marijuana prohibition at the federal level and give states the authority to determine their own policies.”

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