Grover Norquist and Dana Rohrabacher Advocate for Ultimate Marijuana Bill

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
March 13 2014 4:54 PM

Cheech and Chong and Reagan

The marijuana lobby searches for conservatives who hate taxes more than they hate drugs.

(Continued from Page 1)

I head over to the Heritage Foundation’s monthly Conversations With Conservatives panel, where marijuana’s not likely to come up at all. As it wraps I ask a few of the House’s most right-wing members, the guys who run the place, if there’s any interest in the cannabis bills. Texas Rep. Joe Barton, who’s been in the House since 1985, sounds utterly baffled when (with an assist from a more eloquent reporter) I explain the issue.

“I don’t think marijuana helps people,” says Barton. “I think it hurts over time. I don’t want Congress to pre-empt the state of Colorado. If the banks won’t take the money, well, good for the banks. If inadvertent regulation of banks prevents people from using marijuana, I’m for preventing people from using marijuana.”

A few minutes later, I pose the same question to Indiana Rep. Marlin Stutzman, elected in the 2010 Tea Party wave, and 27 years younger than Barton. He starts out criticizing the Obama administration for its abuse of power, which makes sense, as later in the day the House will pass a bill making it easier to sue the president.

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“The attorney general is, again, moving without Congress,” he says. “But I think that we should have hearings on it. We need to realize that there are consequences to laws and referendums that pass in the states when it comes to banks and interstate commerce.

There are problems when we legalize drugs because of the infrastructure behind it.

The flow of money is being forced on them. There’s concern about the soundness, the integrity behind the dollars. When you have several states that are now approving marijuana, it’s going to affect the country ways we may not have thought of.”

In other words: Sure, he’ll look at it. So will Alabama Rep. Spencer Bachus, the retiring chairman emeritus of the House Financial Services Committee, whom I talk to later in the lobbying day, and who is at least open to the idea of banks taking the money.

“If Colorado law allows them to do it lawfully, then I think the bank is entitled to take the money,” says Bachus. “I’d be for addressing it. I’m not for people hiding their money in mattresses and getting robbed.”

When the day ends, I catch up with the lobbyists in the beige vending machine sector of the Rayburn Building. They sit and talk over packaged snacks and vitamin-infused waters. No breakthroughs just yet.

“I was in [New York Sens. Chuck] Schumer and [Kirsten] Gillibrand’s offices, and they seemed disinterested in the issue,” said Steve Trenk of AcquiFlow. “We got a lot of platitudes about seeing what happens.”

Another lobbyist says this might have been a small victory. If Schumer isn’t concerned with the push, he’s out of “drug warrior” mode. He’s not going to oppose the bill—if the House actually moves the bill. If a trend-spotter like Schumer sees no upside in attacking legal marijuana banking or tax deduction (we are talking, after all, about a senator who briefly decided that the Dubai Ports deal was a threat to America), there are no enemies to the left.

The next morning, on the last day of lobbying, the NCIA gather in the Cannon Building to package their message for the press. The hook: An appearance by Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who would explain that marijuana’s victory was preordained. 

“Demographic destiny is marching on,” says Lake. “Marijuana is one of the few issues that mobilizes progressive voters without any backlash.”

Rohrabacher sits in the first row of chairs, eyeing Lake with no apparent reaction. He gets up; he argues that his team should already be backing these bills, his bill especially, no matter whether progressives or the counterculture or whoever else are for it. 

“If it was a secret ballot,” says Rohrabacher, “a majority of my Republican friends would have voted for this.”

*Correction, March 14, 2014: This article originally misstated that Dana Rohrabacher was discussing H.R. 2240 in his speech to the Marijuana Policy Project. He was discussing H.R. 1523.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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