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Rep. Polis Glad to Talk About Medical Marijuana Reform, But Not a Priority

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WASHINGTON – Rep. Jared Polis is the first to say that decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level is not his top priority in the scheme of things.

But the Boulder Democrat – hunkered in a relatively safe seat at the moment – is happy to talk about the issue with whomever asks, be it a cannabis blog, a Capitol Hill newspaper, the cable networks or, as was the case Saturday, the national convention in Denver of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

His message is about a $1 billion industry nationally that, with the change of a president or a U.S. attorney general, could be shut off like a light.

"We're heading for a game of chicken," Polis said. "If we have more states that legalize it and we haven't changed our federal laws, there is a great potential for chaos."

Right now, the more than 120,000 people who have medical-marijuana cards and the more than 1,000 Colorado medicinal-pot dispensaries are operating at the mercy of an Obama administration decision to look the other way rather than enforce federal marijuana laws.

Since that announcement early in Barack Obama's presidency, Colorado's industry has blossomed to collect more than $2 million in state tax revenue last fiscal year. Denver County collected an additional $2 million in local taxes.

After California, Colorado has the most lucrative and mature medicinal industry, industry experts say.

That leads to University of Denver law professor Sam Kamin's prediction that the two states could be ground zero for a state's rights battle if a new president, or even the current president, changes course.

Kamin thinks a solution needs to come from the legislative branch, instead of the White House.

"What's happening now does not strike me as a real solution," Kamin said. "It's sort of a half-solution. As long as the laws are on the books, it doesn't feel like it is solved."

Besides supporting a decriminalization effort – that bill has yet to be introduced this Congress, but it failed last session – Polis supports legislation that would make it easier for medical-marijuana dispensaries to have bank accounts.

Right now, some banks fear that corporate marijuana accounts fly against federal bans on marijuana. That legislation will likely be introduced by the end of next month.

Polis likens the issue to alcohol during Prohibition. He doesn't think the federal government should be able to tell states – or for that matter counties – what to do.

Though alcohol prohibition was repealed, there are still dry counties and some Sunday bans on alcohol sales, he said.

"It's obviously had a positive impact in Colorado, not just the providers and the growers, but we're talking about banking, the media where they advertise," he said of medical- marijuana industry that grew out of Amendment 20, passed by Colorado voters in 2000. "It's created many, many jobs, not just the sector itself."

Fifteen states plus the District of Columbia have medical-marijuana laws on the books.

Polis is not optimistic that number is enough of a critical mass that legislation will go anywhere in this Congress, which may spend the better part of 2011 parsing how to allocate the federal budget.

"Once we get to 30 states, maybe, it will be taken more seriously," he said.

Polis is promoted by cannabis advocates as the congressman who could help save an industry and a movement. He recently held a news conference in Washington with the National Cannabis Industry Association, where he posed for pictures and did media interviews.

Public opinion polls are trending his direction too, with an October 2010 Gallup poll showing 46 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana, up from 31 percent in 2000. Still, Polis says he doesn't spend too much time on the issue.

"If a reporter brings it up, I'm happy to talk about it, but this isn't the top of my priorities," he said. "It's just one of those areas where it's important to Colorado."

News Hawk- Jacob Husky 420 MAGAZINE
Source: denverpost.com
Author: Allison Sherry
Contact: Contact Us
Copyright: The Denver Post
Website: Rep. Polis of Colorado glad to talk about medical-marijuana reform, but it's not a priority
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