Editor’s note: Jared Polis was first elected to represent Colorado’s Second Congressional District in 2008 and was re-elected November 6. Here, he talks with HLN’s Graham Winch about why he supports ending our nation’s prohibition of marijuana.
Q: Why do you support recreational and medical marijuana?
A: Like most Colorado voters, I’ve come to the conclusion over a number of years that treating marijuana like a banned narcotic substance just doesn’t make sense. It should be regulated similar to alcohol...its effects are comparable on the spectrum to alcohol, much more so than they would be to an addictive narcotic drug like meth or crack.
Q: How have your constituents reacted to the measure legalizing recreational marijuana in Colorado?
A: Well, it’s overwhelmingly positive. I’m somewhat humbled as congressman that it got more votes in my district than I did -- so it’s far more popular than I am. In representing this district, you know, people see it as something that makes sense, the fact that somebody could go to jail and become a liability to taxpayers just because they are smoking marijuana is just absurd. It’s also very exciting that we can deal a huge blow to criminal enterprise, to the cartels and gangs. That’s also very important to many voters in the district, myself included, because it’s a real improvement for law enforcement -- focusing our resources on people that are actually causing damage to our community, rather than going after pot.
Q: Right now, any use of marijuana is illegal under federal law. What do you believe needs to happen for the federal government to take action and change its stance on this?
A: Well, ultimately there needs to be some legal changes from Congress. Congress needs to change the law. We all know that is a very slow process -- watch Congress the last few years -- in the meantime what the administration has done for medical marijuana is that they issued a memo called the Ogden Memo, that says enforcing federal law with medical marijuana dispensaries that comply with state law is the lowest enforcement priority. Which means the feds will not go after medical marijuana; we want similar assurances for recreational use of marijuana. We need clarification from the attorney general’s office.
Read more: War on Weed: Feds vs. States
Q: Do you think federal lawmakers are taking the marijuana issue seriously?
A: Well, it’s a very serious issue and I think people have had enough of this failed prohibition policy, like the prohibition of liquor alcohol failed in the 1920s and led to the rise of gangsters. This ban on marijuana is leading to cartels and gangs and crimes and people are just fed up and want a change. Elected congressmen and women are just fed up and want a change and the states that don’t have it are more likely to see this as an issue where it is still illegal in those states. There are an increasing number of states that have medical marijuana. Washington and Colorado have regulated the sale of marijuana. There is a strong consensus that, yes, we need to make sure that there is room for these policies federally.
Q: Do you have any estimates about how big the recreational marijuana industry could be in your state, or how much money could possibly be generated from the taxation of marijuana?
A: Medicinal marijuana has created thousands of jobs, and created millions of dollars of tax revenue. The full implementation and regulation of it got $40 million to go to our schools.
Recreational marijuana will create tens of thousands of jobs in Colorado as it is implemented. That will take those jobs away from the underground and criminal enterprises. These "jobs" don’t exist today. They go to gangs and cartels and fuel their violent apparatus. This initiative allows them to go to legitimate business people.