Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) defined the modern cannabis reform movement as a committed advocate for equality under the law, public health, and safety in the cannabis industry. As a public servant in the Oregon State Legislature, and subsequently, the United States Congress, Congressman Blumenauer has been instrumental in the passage of key laws that have underpinned a shift in the nation’s position on legalization.
Congressman Blumenauer’s journey into cannabis reform began as a state legislator in 1973 when Oregon boldly became the first state to decriminalize cannabis. At a time when cannabis faced widespread illegality and unfavorable public opinion, Blumenauer understood early on that criminal penalties were often unfair and ineffective. This pivotal moment marked the genesis of Blumenauer’s unwavering support for decriminalization.
Two decades later, Earl Blumenauer entered Congress with a relentless commitment to rational federal cannabis policy. He co-founded the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and shepherded a growing bipartisan coalition. Since its founding, the Cannabis Caucus has served as a forum for skeptical and supportive legislators alike as well as stakeholders to discuss the merits of reform and effective paths to legalization. In his stead, the caucus will continue to function as intended and will be guided by its original principles, some of which can be found in his 2013 report on cannabis “The Path Forward: Rethinking Federal Marijuana Policy.”
Throughout his twenty-seven years in the House, Blumenauer has amounted several legislative successes.
He played an instrumental role in the House passage of the MORE Act to decriminalize cannabis on the federal level and invest in communities harmed by the failed War on Drugs. With Rep. Blumenauer serving as one of its key architects, the MORE Act, which was the first – and only – comprehensive cannabis legislation to pass either chamber of Congress, will forever be known as one of the cornerstone pieces of cannabis legislation in our nation’s history.
His Veterans Equal Access bill to end the Department of Veteran Affairs’ ban on providers who help veterans access state-approved medical cannabis has been debated in every appropriations cycle since first introduced. More recently, he spearheaded efforts to pass the SAFE Banking Act to extend protection to financial institutions that offer services to state-approved cannabis businesses.
His decades of advocacy culminated in the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act, the first standalone cannabis bill to be approved by both chambers and signed by the President. The law removed long-standing barriers to research into cannabis and alleviated concerns for skeptics of cannabis reform in the medium to long term as researchers expand their knowledge on the benefits and drawbacks of its use.
In the last few years, Blumenauer has also been a fierce advocate in urging the Biden Administration to embrace full federal decriminalization. Blumenauer celebrated President Biden initiating the scheduling review process of marijuana and pardoning all simple marijuana possession convictions. In recent elections, he has also assisted state ballot measures to approve adult-use cannabis and support the licensed cannabis industry.
However, Congressman Blumenauer may yet achieve another legislative victory before the end of his tenure through the proposed Small Business Tax Equity Act. By reforming Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code, the legislation would expand tax deductions for licensed cannabis businesses. The current tax code stifles innovation and growth in the adult-use cannabis space, imposing needless financial pressures on entrepreneurs. Like most bills Congressman Blumenauer has advanced on cannabis, this one also enjoys bipartisan and bicameral support. At the same time, we have seen the Department of Health and Human Services provide a recommendation that cannabis be reclassified as a Schedule III substance – which would meet the aim of the Small Business Tax Equity Act.
Congressman Blumenauer is also spending the remainder of his time in Congress supporting a longstanding effort: The Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act. The bill would build on the original version by removing state-legal cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and legalizing interstate commerce.
Ultimately, Congressman Blumenauer’s career testifies to the power of persistence in the pursuit of rational, restorative cannabis policy at all levels of government. He has spent his entire political career not only tirelessly working to destigmatize the conversation around cannabis, but backing up his words with action that is making a difference and advancing cannabis policies in America. While he will be sorely missed in the halls of Congress, he leaves behind an honorable legacy to which his colleagues can aspire.