Colorado Gov. Jared Polis celebrated federal health officials' recommendation that the Drug Enforcement Administration loosen marijuana restrictions and urged President Joe Biden to take specific actions to support state-run cannabis markets and promote polices that will support the existing state markets.
In a four-page letter issued Tuesday, Polis praised the Biden administration for the steps it has taken that led to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommending the DEA reschedule cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III, but added that "much work lies ahead."
"I am writing to offer my enthusiastic support as DEA promptly reviews and acts upon [the agency's] analysis in the coming weeks," Polis said. "I ask you to simultaneously consider a few next steps in the near future by showing your support for access to banking for the state-regulated marketplace, reduced criminal penalties for possession and distribution of cannabis, addressing immigration related consequences and enforcement discretion from FDA."
He is the latest politician pushing for marijuana reform following the news of the HHS letter. Lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; Rep. David Joyce, R-Ohio; and others all praised the findings of the agency's review.
Polis stands out as being the head of a state that has operated a cannabis market since 2014 and conducted some $14.7 billion in sales, he said in his letter. But Colorado's regulated industry and others face "headwinds" due to federal tax policy known as Section 280E, which forbids entities that sell Schedule I or II substances from taking ordinary business deductions. On top of that, cannabis companies must conduct most of their business via cash, making them targets for robberies, Polis said.
"I have been tirelessly pushing Congress to fix the banking problem for over a decade as both a congressman and a governor, and would welcome your assistance in encouraging Congress to provide access to banking and financial services for state-regulated cannabis-related businesses as well as reform IRS Section 280E to ensure continued success in the industry," he said.
But the most damaging aspect of the federal prohibition on cannabis has been the criminal prosecutions and law enforcement's uneven targeting of Black citizens, Polis said. He added that if Biden merely signaled that he would support criminal justice reform in this area, it would "go a long way toward bringing young people to the polls in 2024."
He suggested that the DEA's review of cannabis rescheduling could be informed by Colorado and the 37 other state-regulated markets. He added that potential federal policy should avoid capsizing the state regulatory frameworks that are well-established.
"To provide clarity, we hope that you will press [the U.S. Food and Drug Administration] to develop and publish guidance outlining their enforcement discretion and priorities with respect to the state-regulated cannabis industry," Polis said. "Specifically, an enforcement discretion policy should articulate that FDA will not bring a compliance action against companies whose products and activities are authorized by state medical and recreational marijuana laws, so long as they are abiding by state law and not making health claims, marketing in interstate commerce, or marketing to children."