When I was editor of Freedom Leaf in 2016, we decided to do a cover story dubbed "High on the Hill." NORML had graded all 535 Congressional reps and Rep. Blumenauer earned a rare "A" for his efforts to legalize cannabis federally.
The Congress member graciously agreed to the interview and photos taken by Gabe Kirchheimer.
Seven years later, Blumenauer has announced he will not seek another term as one of Portland, OR's federal reps. He began his political career in the Oregon statehouse in 1973, the year marijuana was decriminalized in the Beaver State, a first in the nation. He recalled in our interview:
"We had just swept into power in the Oregon legislature – a bunch of young Democrats. When I won my first election I was 23 years old. We had a number of people in their twenties and thirties. Reform was in the air. We focused on trransporation, health care and dealing with the de-institutionalization of the mentally ill. We had just finished, in our city, changing how we treated late-stage alcoholics by not putting them in jail because of their disease. The marijuana legislation just flowed from there. There was compelling evidence that we were criminalizing something that was less dangerous than things that were perfectly legal, and it wasn't effective and didn't seem fair. As far as I can tell it was the first vote to legalize adult use in the country."
While 10 other states followed Oregon's lead in the '70s, the decrim movement stalled in the '80s with Reagan and Bush Sr. occupying the White House.
"I just was not ready for how deeply embedded Nixon's War on Drugs was. And then what happend with the Reagan administration. It continues to disappoint me to this day – all the lives lost, the social carnage. But I think we're turning the corner."
Blumenauer first ran for the House of Representatives in 1996. He has been reelected 13 times. About his decision to step away from Congress, he wrote in an mass email:
"The stakes are still very high, and Democrats are positioned to reclaim the House of Representatives. But simply said, it is time to continue my life's mission without the burden of day-to-day politics."
Rep. Earl Blumenauer: "I just was not ready for how deeply embedded Nixon's War on Drugs was. And then what happend with the Reagan administration. It continues to disappoint me to this day."
When I interviewed him, just four states (Oregon included) had passed adult-use legalization. He commented:
"It's been a year and a half since the legalization vote. There have been no big cracks that have appeared in the Earth. Rocks haven't fallen down. The sun still rises and sets. There hasn't been an uptick in use by young people. What we've seen, if anything, is there's greater acceptance of the role this may play in Oregon, The state is trying to get the regulatory framework right. The industry is moving forward and developing. We're learning to adapt. Public support is building."
Since Blumenauer says he's never used cannabis, I asked why the issue was such a priority for him.
"Literally, at that time, I didn't know people who smoked marijuana. I never used it and I stil haven't. It was just clear that it wasn't justified to have criminal penalties. It made no sense to disrupt peoples' lives, and what a waste of resources. And over time I've come to believe that more fervently. I think this War on Drugs has been so destructive. Look what happened in terms of racial disparities in the criminal justice system. This has all resulted in mass incarceration. What better place to learn to be a drug dealer than the university of the state penitentiary? So, having a more rational set of policies regarding marijuana – legalize it, regulate it, tax it – I think is going to lead to a number of positive outcomes."
Several times, he suggested significant changes on the federal level would happen within five years. Obama was in his second term. Trump and Biden were campaigning for president. Not much has happened since then except for the passage of a bipartisan cannabis research bill which he co-sponsored.
Yesterday, Blumenauer told Willamette Week:
"I’m not certain that two more years in Congress in this climate is the best way to deal with things I care about... in terms of international water and sanitation, cannabis reform, flood insurance, climate change, transportation safety."
Blumenaeur's departure (his term runs through 2024) will be especially felt in the Congressional Cannabis Caucus which he co-founded with two Republican members in 2017.
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