The governor of Colorado has the same question as many marijuana reform advocates: When will the federal government complete its review into cannabis scheduling that President Joe Biden directed last year?
In a video message played at a National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) Colorado Cannabis Caucus event on Wednesday, Gov. Jared Polis (D) talked about his state’s historic vote to legalize adult-use marijuana more than 10 years ago, emphasizing that work still needs to be done.
“Over the years, we’ve laid that foundation and continued honing the process to make sure our industry is the very best in the world,” Polis said. “We continue this work. Just because Colorado was the first doesn’t mean we’re content to rest on our laurels. We need to continue pursuing new boundaries and work to ensure we remain competitive with every other market following in our footsteps.”
Notably, the governor also said that continuing to push for federal legalization is key, and that his administration has reached out to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to inquire about the timeline for the agency’s review into federal marijuana scheduling.
“At every step, states—alongside industry—have been leading the way on this. We all know that federal action must be taken to create a far more effective successful landscape for the industry,” he said. “I’ve been outspoken about my support for federal legalization in conversations with the White House, the [Food and Drug Administration] and members of Congress about the importance and the urgency of this.”
“We’ve also asked Health and Human Services Secretary Becerra for a timeline on rescheduling, and we expect to continue to be part of these conversations,” Polis said.
It’s a question on the minds of many reform advocates. Biden has made much of the scheduling review, but agencies involved in that process haven’t offered much beyond saying that it would be completed “expeditiously.”
Becerra’s department is leading the medical and scientific review of marijuana’s effects that will shape the Department of Justice’s ultimate decision on whether or not to reschedule cannabis.
In the video message to NCIA, Polis said that “we know that there’s a lot more work to do,” including on banking access issues for cannabis businesses and when it comes to equity in the industry.
“We want to continue working to help cannabis businesses and entrepreneurs thrive,” he said. “The future of cannabis in Colorado is bright. I look forward to working alongside you to make sure that our system remains the very best ecosystem for innovation in the cannabis sector in the entire world.”
The governor was set to appear in person at the NCIA event when it was initially scheduled for last month, but it ended up getting postponed due to weather. The governor couldn’t make it to the rescheduled gathering this week in person, so he instead sent the prepared video to be played for attendees.
We are pleased to announce that Gov. Jared Polis will be providing a keynote address at Wednesday evening’s Cannabis Caucus event in Denver! Register now for the opportunity to learn about the Governor’s priorities for cannabis policy in the new year.https://t.co/vjXaAaR4RT pic.twitter.com/DibUlKZa8G
— National Cannabis Industry Association (@NCIAorg) February 14, 2023
In line with Polis’s call for information on the timeline for the federal rescheduling review, more than a dozen bipartisan congressional lawmakers sent a letter to top Biden administration officials last week, demanding transparency in the ongoing process.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) recently circulated a draft of the letter among colleagues, seeking signatories before sending the final version to Becerra and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.
The HHS secretary recently sent lawmakers, including Blumenauer and Lee, a response to a separate December letter to the president concerning the need for the administration to recognize the merits of cannabis descheduling and take a clear position.
Rather than address the main request from the lawmakers, however, the top federal health official simply reiterated the department’s role in carrying out cannabis scheduling review—and ultimately said that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) makes the final call after they complete a “binding” scientific analysis.
Separately, the attorney general said at a Senate hearing this month that DOJ is “still working on a marijuana policy” while awaiting the results of the scientific review from health agencies.
Biden, for his part, has repeatedly touted his cannabis pardons and scheduling directive in the months since October, including most recently at an event commemorating the end of Black History Month.
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Back in Colorado, the governor is also promoting the state’s first-ever marijuana vending machine, which can package, label and dispense cannabis products to adult consumers—with transactions being completed in as little as 50 seconds.
Polis has been an active supporter of the state’s marijuana industry, issuing pardons for prior cannabis convictions and advocating for federal reform to allow licensed marijuana businesses to access basic financial services available to other traditional markets, for example.
At the same time, he’s joked about wanting other states like Texas to maintain prohibition so that Colorado can reap the tax revenue benefits of having tourists come to buy cannabis.
The state has also taken steps to promote energy efficiency in the cannabis sector and also ensure social equity in the industry is prioritized as it continues to grow and diversify.
Last year, Polis signed an executive order to provide broad professional licensing protections for workers who use marijuana in compliance with state law. The move also prevents state agencies from assisting in any out-of-state investigations related to lawful cannabis conduct that could result in employment penalties.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.