The marijuana industry under Trump: Q&A with Congressman Ed Perlmutter

(Editor’s note: Marijuana Business Daily spoke with Congressman Ed Perlmutter in December for a special report titled “Trump & the $5 Billion Marijuana Industry.” The report, which explores five scenarios that could play out for the cannabis sector under Trump, is available for purchase starting today.) 

By John Schroyer

Ed Perlmutter, a Colorado Democrat, has been a strong proponent of the cannabis industry during a Congressional stint that started in 2006.

While witnessing firsthand the growth of Colorado’s marijuana industry, Perlmutter has sponsored several pro-cannabis measures in the House, including legislation to increase banking access for MJ-related companies.

Perlmutter, who represents Colorado’s 7th Congressional District, also is considering joining the new Cannabis Caucus, which will be dedicated to furthering marijuana reforms in Congress.

He spoke with Marijuana Business Daily about what might happen to the marijuana industry under a new president. Following are excerpts of that conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Have you received any indication about how the Trump administration may approach cannabis in general?

Not specifically about the Trump administration.

Obviously, the person chosen to be the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has made remarks that are contra-marijuana. He’s stated his opposition on a few occasions.

And Trump, through the course of the campaign, said some things that seem to be conflicting: that medical marijuana appeared to be OK with him, and sometimes he would go further, and say, “but that’s about it,” or “I’ll leave the rest of it to the states.”

So there’s a lack of clarity as to the president’s position. But his attorney general is not somebody who favors marijuana.

What do you anticipate Congress will do in the coming year regarding marijuana? Do you expect the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment will be updated to include protection for adult-use state marijuana laws, for example?

(Note: The Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment prohibits the Department of Justice from spending any federal money to interfere with state medical marijuana programs.)

I think the answer is yes. That could be amended.

With California having passed adult use of marijuana, that could certainly be brought up during the appropriations process. I think we have to take a look at the fact that so many more states now have some level of marijuana use…that there could be enough momentum in the House, and maybe in the Senate, to pass some marijuana legislation.

I’ve had a conversation already with one of my Republican colleagues who is interested in either sponsoring or helping me on the banking marijuana bill. He actually came to me and talked to me about it. So it’s definitely on the minds of some of the Republicans.

So there is a good chance of that.

(Congressman Dana) Rohrabacher is from California, and California just passed full adult use, similar to Colorado.

So yes, I think that amendment could be expanded. I think you could see actual authorizing legislation and not just amendments to appropriations bills, but I don’t want to get carried away.

Will there be more of an appetite in general among your colleagues for working on cannabis-related bills and policy because of how many states have now legalized either medical or recreational marijuana?

I agree with that sort of analysis. There are now a lot of states with either full use or medical use, and I think the members of Congress, out of respect for their own states, can start moving these things forward.

What approach would you like to see from Trump and Sessions?

I would like to see them say, if a state has chosen to allow medical marijuana or marijuana for adult use, and if that state has put a regulatory structure in place, that state is exempt from maybe the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) but certainly the federal banking laws that make it difficult for a business that’s legitimate to carry on business activities like credit cards or checking accounts or payroll accounts or things like that.

I want to see the state regulate its own industries. And I want that state also to be able to really focus on the public safety aspects of the marijuana industry (by keeping cannabis from) going underground or just being a cash business (which) potentially leads to other crimes – robbery, assault, battery, theft.

If I had my wish list, it would be to allow states to regulate themselves, and that they’re exempt from the CSA. At a very minimum, I would like to see the Cole Memo maintained.

What do you think is the most realistic worst-case scenario for marijuana businesses in Colorado and other states? Should they be worried about being prosecuted and imprisoned by the Department of Justice?

I think that’s over the top. And I’m not trying to just put some kind of gloss on this.

I think more realistic, based on statements (Trump and Sessions have) made, is they don’t seem to be opposed to medical marijuana. Sessions is a little different, but the president-elect has made statements favoring MMJ, and maybe there’s got to be a retrenchment to MMJ for the time being.

But I don’t see raids and arrests and things like that. There are just too many states that have some level of marijuana use allowed in their state right now.

I need to continue to work with my Democratic and Republican colleagues in the House, and work with senators who have expressed an interest, to define the law in a way that allows legitimate businesses authorized in their own states to continue to do business without fear of some kind of reprisal.

That’s where we need to get busy in the legislative arena, to enact a law that then defines what the administration can or cannot do.

In general, it sounds like you’re fairly hopeful.

Things are uncertain right now. But I think there is work for the Congress and the Senate to do to help define the law so that states that choose to have some level of marijuana use can proceed, assuming they’ve got a regulatory structure in place.

The Trump administration does have a lot of pressing issues they’re going to focus on, so Congress should get busy and try to better define how marijuana should be regulated in this country.

John Schroyer can be reached at [email protected]

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