Our hats go off to Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) for standing up for Coloradans earlier this month and against what he viewed as the federal government trampling on the will of the voters in Colorado and elsewhere who had legalized recreational marijuana.
Gardner took a strong stand on the Senate floor, on social media and in interviews, against Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Jan. 4 decision to rescind the Cole Memorandum, the 2013 U.S. Department of Justice document that gave federal prosecutors clear guidance on how to operate in states that had legalized retail marijuana.
A bi-partisan group of Colorado’s and other state’s elected officials also criticized the move. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Denver) suggested it would create unnecessary chaos and confusion in an emerging industry, and Rep. Scott Tipton (R – Cortez) indicated the federal government must act to create certainty for these businesses, protect the will of the people and the industry.
In today’s politics, it was refreshing to witness Gardner’s strong and principled response to a perceived wrong and consistency in he and his party’s support of states’ rights. He struck out, even threatened to hold up DOJ nominees because, before he voted to confirm him, Sessions assured Gardner that marijuana would not be a priority of his.
Though not a pot proponent, Gardner spoke against the administration and for the 55 percent of Colorado voters who, in November 2012, approved Amendment 64 amending the state constitution to allow the personal and commercial use and regulation of marijuana, similar to alcohol. Medical marijuana in Colorado was approved in November 2000 by 54 percent of voters.
Since 2012, the recreational marijuana industry has created 23,000 jobs and generated $200 million in state tax revenue. In the 12 months ending Nov. 30, 2017, the city of Durango collected tax of $674,356 in retail pot sales (and $98,508 in medical), an increase in retail sales of $86,191, or 15 percent, since Nov. 30, 2016.
What Sessions and President Donald Trump decide are the nation’s priorities remain to be seen, but, as we and a majority of Coloradans believe, supporting, rather than attempting to dismantle, this developing industry should indeed be among them. Both the city of Durango and La Plata County decided against raising pot taxes last year for this very reason.
One important way Congress and the administration can support the industry is to address federal rules that restrict banks from working with marijuana businesses. In April 2017, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Arvada) introduced the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (SAFE Act), that would provide protections for and allow banks to serve the pot industry. The bill currently has 58 co-sponsors and received bi-partisan support. Though not a co-sponsor, Tipton serves on the House Committee on Financial Services with Rep. Perlmutter. In May 2017, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) introduced a similar bill in the Senate which received bi-partisan support from 12 senators, including Bennet and Gardner.
Colorado’s elected officials have the support they need to work to move these bills through the 115th Congress. And Gardner has it to hold Sessions and Trump to their word.
In a radio interview last week on Denver’s KNUS radio, Gardner said, “...in 2016, when Trump came to Colorado, he said he was going to protect states’ rights, and he would not use federal powers to do this ... I think we can help make sure that the president’s word is kept in Colorado.”
Sen. Gardner may be just the man to do that.