Q&A With U.S. Rep. Dina Titus on Federal Marijuana Legislation, Nevada MMJ

By John Schroyer

Congresswoman Dina Titus is optimistic when it comes to cannabis.

The Nevada Democrat has not only been prepping for medical marijuana in her state, she’s also been focusing on the potential for recreational marijuana becoming legal there in 2016. So much so that that she took a trip to Denver in late October and toured several cannabis companies to get an idea of how the industry works in Colorado. Titus visited a marijuana shop that sells both recreational and medical cannabis, a concentrates company, an edibles manufacturer and a testing lab.

Titus sat down with Marijuana Business Daily at the tail end of her Denver trip to talk about the marijuana business, federal cannabis legislation and what she sees coming down the road in Washington DC on national marijuana policy.

You toured several different marijuana companies in Denver. Why?

Nevada is now moving very quickly into medical marijuana, and I’m involved at the congressional level, trying to get Congress to keep up with the states, because I see it as a small business issue.

But I want to know as much about it as possible, so I toured places to see how it works here so Nevada doesn’t make the same mistakes, and also so that I’m knowledgeable so when I am an advocate, I can speak like I know what I’m talking about.

I think the thing that impresses me is how professional it is. It’s chemistry. It’s horticulture. It’s engineering. It’s marketing. All of those things show it’s a legitimate business. Also how regulated it is; from seed to sale, I think is what they say, and how much it’s tracked.

Do you have any thoughts on Nevada’s medical marijuana program and the possibility of recreational cannabis being legalized in Nevada in the next few years?

I think it’ll be pretty much who’s already been approved at the local level. I think I’ll have a number of facilities in my district, because the heart of the Las Vegas Valley also includes the medical corridor. So I want to see that up and running and working well. The recreational, they’re doing a ballot initiative, possibly. We’ll see that down the road, but let’s get this up and do it right.

Do you think there’s any chance of federal legislation on banking reform regarding the marijuana industry any time soon?

Well, I hope so. I’m a co-sponsor of the bill (H.R. 2652, the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act). Ed Perlmutter from Colorado is a sponsor of it. We got an amendment passed to the Financial Services Appropriations bill saying, ‘Don’t go after banks and businesses.’ That came out of the House.

But you need formal legislation, not just say ‘Don’t go after people,’ because we change administrations, who knows what will happen? But I think you need to work on one piece at a time.

There’s the banking issue, there’s the prosecution issue, the issue with having the V.A. be able to recommend it for treatment of PTSD, releasing more of the product so we can test to see what potential benefits it may have. So as more and more states come on board… the states’ rights argument and the small business argument are both pretty impressive.

Are you thinking at all about introducing any other type of marijuana legislation at the federal level, whether trying to reschedule marijuana with the DEA or anything along those lines?

There is that bill (H.R. 4498, which would move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II), but I don’t think under this Congress it has any chance to pass. You don’t want to let perfect be the enemy of the good, so let’s get what we can done, while that may be something in the future, but moving that out from under drug enforcement to Treasury, reclassifying or declassifying is a much harder argument to make.

You can get people who are not so progressive who are Republican with the states’ rights argument, so that’s kind of the path right now.

What do you think it will take for marijuana legislation at the federal level to get some serious traction in Congress?

I think it’s already starting to, because we did not pass the V.A. amendment (to H.R. 4486, to allow V.A. providers to recommend MMJ to veterans for treatment in states where it’s legal), but we passed two other ones out of the House.

And just an example of how you find people to work with you on the other side of the aisle, one of those amendments, you had to pair Democrat and Republican – they didn’t want it to be too heavily Democratic, because then it wouldn’t have passed in a Republican-controlled House – my partner was Justin Amash (R-MI), and he’s very conservative.

He and I would never vote the same on anything else, but he saw this as a Libertarian kind of personal rights, states’ rights issue, so we partnered (on an amendment to H.R. 4660, to prohibit the Department of Justice from using federal fund to block states from implementing MMJ laws). So I think you’ll see more and more of that sort of thing start to happen.

What do you think, from a federal perspective, is in store for the marijuana industry? There are plenty of people who worry that if a Republican wins the White House in 2016, then the Department of Justice or the DEA might take a different approach to cannabis.

That’s why you need legislation. You can’t just depend on an attorney general who’s not going to go after people, because you don’t know who the next attorney general might be. But I think that once this becomes more and more entrenched… more and more states are putting it in place, as more people see the value of it in terms of tax revenue, in terms of jobs, they see the ancillary businesses that are associated with it, whether it’s marketing or manufacturing, it’ll be hard to turn back the clock.

What’s your message to people in the industry?

I have a very positive attitude about it. I see it as a small business, but mostly I’m here to learn and ask questions so that we do it right, so we don’t make mistakes, and establish this as a legitimate part of the economy.

Do you see yourself as being in the minority in Congress when it comes to your views on the marijuana industry?

Probably, but I think the number is growing. Just like passing those two amendments; it takes a majority to pass those amendments, and we got it. We got those votes. So every time the vote come up, you’ll get a few more people. We’ll see what the new Congress looks like, but you’ve got some real strong advocates from Colorado, from Washington, from Nevada now, and so that’s going to grow.