Finally, Congress gets ranked on its pot votes

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Paul Danish/Sue France

NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, for those who have developed long-term memory problems) did something really interesting to celebrate 4/20 this year: It put out a Congressional Scorecard.

Interest groups have been ranking Senators and Congressmen by how they vote on particular bills for decades, but NORML’s scorecard may be the first one put out by a pro-marijuana group that I can recall.

NORML didn’t have a lot to work with, since there are relatively few bills concerning pot introduced in Congress, and those that are tend to be bottled up in committee. So while there are over a dozen pieces of marijuana legislation pending before Congress, no bill has been voted on, either on the floor or in committee.

However, a number of marijuana-related amendments to bills have been voted on, and NORML was able to use these in compiling its scorecard — three in the Senate and three in the House. It supplemented these with whether a member had sponsored or co-sponsored legislation specific to federal marijuana law reform, whether or not a member had sponsored marijuana-related amendments, and provided a grade for members’ public statements or testimony, if it could find any.

It then translated the votes, sponsorships and statements into a letter grade.

An “A” grade means the member declared his or her support for the legalization and regulation of marijuana by adults. A “B” grade means the member in favor of states being allowed to legalize recreation pot without federal interference. A “C” means the member supported legalizing medical marijuana and/or decriminalizing marijuana use. A “D” means the member expressed no support for any significant marijuana reform, while an “F” means the member opposed legalization or any significant reform.

Interestingly, with one exception, both the Democrats and Republicans in the Colorado congressional delegation got high marks.

Both of Colorado’s Senators, Democrat Michael Bennet and Republican Cory Gardner, received “B” grades.

Although neither Bennet nor Gardner voted on any of the three amendments NORML used in its rating system, both sponsored or co-sponsored marijuana reform bills.

Gardner was the sponsor and Bennet a co-sponsor of the Therapeutic Hemp Medical Access Act of 2015.

Bennet also co-sponsored SB 683, dubbed CARERS. Gardner co-sponsored the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015 and the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2015. Passage of the latter would have enormous benefits for Colorado’s burgeoning marijuana industry.

On the House side, Boulder’s Democratic Congressman Jared Polis got an “A” rating, as did Congressman Ed Perlmutter, who represents the 7th Congressional District in western Adams and northern Jefferson counties.

Both have favored marijuana legalization and voted “yes” on the three House amendments NORML used in its scorecard: The McClintock/Polis Amendment (co-sponsored by Polis), which would have kept the Department of Justice from interfering with state-specific recreational marijuana laws, the Rohrabacher/Farr Amendment, which would have done the same thing for medical marijuana, and the Blumenauer Amendment, which would have allowed Veterans Affairs doctors to prescribe medical marijuana in states where it’s allowed.

Polis has also co-sponsored or sponsored six other marijuana reform bills or amendments. Perlmutter co-sponsored five.
Four other members of the Colorado House delegation received “B” grades: Democrats Diana DeGette (Denver), and Republicans Scott Tipton (Cortez), Mike Coffman (Aurora) and Ken Buck (Greeley).

Of the four, the most interesting is Buck, who actively worked against Amendment 64 before he was elected to Congress in 2014. Buck voted “yes” on the McClintock/Polis and Rohrabacher/Farr amendments and co-sponsored the Industrial Hemp Farming Act and the Charlotte’s Web Medical Access Act.
Earlier this month, he told me he favored giving marijuana businesses access to banking. He also said that although he opposed Amendment 64, now it’s passed, he wanted to make it work properly.

Republican Doug Lamborn (Colorado Springs) got a “D.” He voted against all three amendments used in the rating system, sponsored no bills and had nothing to say about marijuana reform.

Lamborn’s outlier ranking in the delegation is telling. Even six years ago, it would have been mainstream.