WASHINGTON – Speaking alongside industry advocates, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) called Wednesday for Congress to end the prohibition on marijuana, stressing the need to reduce drug violence while hailing the medical cannabis market's capacity for growing the economy.
"Ending the failed policy of prohibition with regard to marijuana will strike a major blow against the criminal cartels that are terrorizing Americans and Mexicans on both sides of the border," Polis said at the National Press Club, in response to a question from Raw Story.
"It's been estimated that the drug cartels drive about half of their revenue from marijuana, so I think it would reduce the violence by half, and reduce the money that fuels the criminal enterprises by half."
Organized by the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), a lobbying and trade group for the industry, the event featured anti-prohibition advocates and owners of medical marijuana businesses speaking out against the burdensome federal regulations they face.
A common gripe was an IRS regulation, Section 280E, which prevents medical marijuana suppliers from deducting legitimate business expenses. The advocates argued that the provision was intended to apply to organization engaging in illegal behavior, rather than licensed cannabis dispensaries.
NCIA executive director Aaron Smith unveiled a report conducted by See Change Strategy, an independent financial analysis firm, which projected the size of the medical cannabis industry to be $1.7 billion in 2011. NCIA estimated that the figure will reach $8.9 billion in five years.
Polis invoked the impacts of a Colorado law that last year loosened restrictions on the industry.
"We've seen the benefits across the board, as a job creation engine in Colorado, as sorely needed contributions to our revenue on the state level," he said. "It'll reach its next level though Congressional action, that really allows the industry to be treated like any other -- whether it's access banking services, whether it's capital structures from investors from multiple states, whether it's finally be able to sleep quietly without the risk of federal enforcement action."
The second-term Colorado Democrat predicted that national legislation was on the horizon, but said states must lead the charge. "It's a critical and important time for advocacy at the national stage," he said. "The more states create a regulatory structure around marijuana production and sales, the more pressure there will be on Congress nationally."
[Image via Jared Polis, Creative Commons licensed]