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Putting the Pot in Politics



Rep. Earl Blumenauer gave a rousing speech to cannabis industry members on September 1 in Bend that was both visionary and practical, in which he laid out his priorities for key policy changes in Congress and predicted that Oregon is poised to "set the world standard for cannabis."

Introduced by Oregrown founder Aviv Hadar, Blumenauer began by telling local cannabis businesspeople that he was present for the beginning of America's ongoing cannabis "revolution." In 1973, Blumenauer was a member of the Oregon Legislature when Oregon became the first to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis. He also reminisced about a little-known piece of cannabis history in Oregon: A floor vote in the Oregon house on a bill that would have allowed Oregonians to grow up to two plants for personal consumption without fear of criminal sanctions.

A mere 40 years later, Oregonians got the right to grow up to four plants. But no thanks to the Legislature. And that was a theme for Blumenauer, who noted that people in several states around the country are following the lead of the early adopters by working to get legalization measures on the ballot for the upcoming 2016 election season. This momentum from the people, he said, is breaking down resistance to change Congress. And, incredibly, the two parties are finding common ground behind the idea that the federal government should let the states make their own decisions about cannabis policy, as it does with alcohol.

Blumenauer said he has been focused on "putting some rationality" in federal cannabis policies. In the next Congress, Blumenauer plans to focus on two bills that seem to have a reasonable chance of becoming law. First is a tax fairness bill that would allow cannabis businesses to deduct the same expenses that other businesses are allowed to deduct. Cannabis businesses now often have tax liability three or four times as high as a business in another industry.

Blumenauer's second priority is a bill that would give cannabis businesses access to the full range of banking services. Due to federal banking regulations aimed at combating organized crime, most banks are afraid to extend credit to cannabis businesses or even allow them to open checking accounts. As a result, cannabis businesses are forced to operate almost exclusively with cash.

Blumenauer noted that carrying around huge wads of cash each day isn't the safest practice for the people involved in these businesses. And the banking regulations that require them to do everything with cash do not exactly further the stated purpose of combating money laundering and tax evasion. As Blumenauer put it, "Nobody in their right mind thinks there's any benefit to forcing these legal businesses to do business on a cash basis."

These bills are aimed at leveling the playing field for legal cannabis businesses. And with that fair shot, Blumenauer said, Oregon might just become a world leader in cannabis. He likened the industry to another "value added ag" business in Oregon, the wine industry, and touted its potential economic impact for rural and small-town Oregon.

The vision of a future Central Oregon with thriving cannabis businesses, cannabis tourism, and thousands more jobs was easy to see from the people in attendance. Representatives from over a dozen Bend-area cannabis growers and retailers attended Blumenauer's talk. Many of them have already made substantial investments in real estate, production infrastructure, and employees. And there were also several people in attendance from support businesses focused on the cannabis industry. If this growth and optimism continues, Oregon may indeed show the world how to, as Blumenauer put it, "turn a negative into a positive."

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