Just before President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address Tuesday night, Colorado Congressman Jared Polis started an "Ask Me Anything" Reddit thread and discussed, among many things, his bill (HR-499) that would end the federal ban on marijuana and would allow states to decide for themselves if they want pot legal or not, as Colorado and Washington did in November.
Polis opened the thread with:
Hi! I'm holding my seat on the House floor getting ready for the State of the Union address which starts at 9 pm eastern. I will be around until then, then you can look for me on tv greeting the President (I got a good seat), then I'll be back when it's done to answer some more of the top questions. Let's have some fun!
The Colorado lawmaker took a break during the SOTU address and then resumed the AMA around 10:30 and had a very candid, often funny, conversation with hundreds of eager Redditors.
Polis discussed his thoughts on marijuana legalization federally and in Colorado as well as brief, but revealing bits about his homosexuality, life in Boulder, Colorado and much more.
Below are some of the best segments of his lengthy Reddit thread.
Redditor Salacious asked: What moneyed interests are blocking real progress on marijuana legalization? What are the non-monetary political concerns?
JP: The law enforcement industrial complex. All those on the gravy train of the drug war which means parts of law enforcement and their private sector vendors.
hubert1504 asked: Certain municipalities in Colorado are attempting to keep marijuana illegal in their jurisdictions. Some still write tickets for marijuana paraphernalia, accessories explicitly legalized in the state constitution. What can be done to see that these municipalities respect the will of the voters of Colorado?
JP: The will of the voters (Amendment 64) leaves it up to counties and cities how to regulate marijuana. I fully expect that many counties and cities will retain or enact bans. That is entirely their choice. The answer is to elect a different city council if you don't like their decisions.
Just as when federal prohibition ended for alcohol, many counties remaind "dry" and there are dry counties to this day.
iamaredditer asked: Why do you think the current administration has been so harsh on medical marijuana dispensaries?
JP: I reject the premise of the question.
Wow, that sounds legalistic. I always wanted to reject the premise of a question. THis is my first time I've said that!
AnyWho, the administration has been very clear through the Ogden memo that medical marijuana dispenseries that are clearly following state law are the lowest enforcement priority. This means that largely the feds have left medical marijuana dispenseries alone. In my state of Colorado that has been the case. I understand that in California there have been several raids, but these are of dispenseries that are operating in a gray area or a outright illegal manner under California laws. California state needs to tighten its laws to have less ambiguity so the feds don't have a pretense to come in.
powderitis asked: What can congress do to help the DEA reschedule marijuana from a class 1 drug up to lets say a class 3 or 4 or completely unschedule the drug? As a doctor I can prescribe Cocaine for my patient legally but if I have a patient on marijuana they are still breaking the federal law.
JP: Thank you for highlighting the absurdity of current law.
BlackbeltJones asked: To what extent can law enforcement realistically prevent diversion of marijuana to minors? And on THC DUI bill....
I believe law enforcement is in a better position to prevent distribution to minors if it is legal and regulated vs. banned because the corner drug dealer doesn't care about selling to a kid.
I think having a THC DUI is a good idea. We need to strongly discourage people from using marijuana and driving.
Thanks for the invite from Denver maybe some time I'll drop by if I'm Denver
DersTheChamp asked: What is your main arguement for legalizing marijuana, I have always wanted to know a politicians take on this.
The drug war has failed and it's time to try a new approach.
stealthisbook asked: Since you represent one of the largest brewing constituencies in the US and also are a proponent of marijuana reform, how do you feel about the common comparison of marijuana being safer than alcohol?
I don't think either is healthy, but clearly marijuana in moderation is not as harmful as being an alcoholic or drinking too much.
Sam_Coleridge asked: Congressman Polis, as I understand it, you represent the great state of Colorado. My question is how has cannabis legalization affected your state and would you recommend the legal parameters your state has set in place for cannabis to be applied to other states or even for federal law?
I would definitely recommend what our state has done for medical marijuana.
We have a great regulatory system that keeps people safe, prevents kids from getting access, keeps the criminal element out, etc. Nothing is perfect but I give CO an A.
It's too early to tell for full legalization, it just started but I do think they have a great process to determine the rules that will hopefully result in a good system.
Throughout the AMA, Polis would occasionally go off on tangents with Redditors and talk about his personal life, after one Redditor named "bizzle6" asked, "Do you get tired of hearing how rich you are?" Rep. Polis had a funny and smart response:
JP: How rich I am, how gay I am, how Jewish I am, how handsome I am (well, maybe not so much that last one). I am fine with my identities of course (one has to get used to things). I always try not to judge people or assume things because of their identities. Someone's wealth, sexual orientation, etc says nothing about whether they are a good person or not.
Polis also briefly discussed his personal life in Boulder when a Redditor from Boulder wrote about some of their favorite spots in the college town:
JP: We live near Pearl Street mall so usually hang out downtown, you'll typically see me walking with our little dog Gia and/or our son (1.5 years old).
Redditor "interstate73" asked Rep. Polis about the record numbers of LGBT lawmakers in Congress and Colorado's openly-gay House speaker Mark Ferrandino: What do you think of the record numbers of LGBT members of this congress (of which you are a member)? Will Steve King and Michelle Bachmann willingly go within 15 feet of you? Do you think the Supreme Court will strike down DOMA and Prop 8? And what do you think the prospects are for legal gay marriage are in Colorado at the state level? The Colorado House speaker IS openly gay, after all.
JP: Yeah it's really exciting. We have six out LGBT House members now and one in the Senate. I think there will be more and more. I get along fine with Bachmann and King. I mean I haven't made out with them or anything, but we get along just fine.
Our Speaker Mark Ferrandino is great and CO will soon be signing civil unions into law. I think if legal gay marriage was brought before the voters it would probably pass.
Read the lengthy and detailed AMA at Reddit.
Related on HuffPost:
$13.7 Billion Saved On Prohibition Enforcement Costs
The government would save an estimated $13.7 billion on prohibition enforcement costs and tax revenue by legalizing marijuana, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/17/economists-marijuana-legalization_n_1431840.html" target="_hplink">according to a paper endorsed by 300 economists</a>.
Marijuana Inmates Cost Prisons $1 Billion A Year
Inmates incarcerated on marijuana-related charges cost U.S. prisons $1 billion annually, according to a 2007 study, <a href="http://www.alternet.org/rights/47815/" target="_hplink">AlterNet reports</a>.
Marijuana Prohibition Costs Taxpayers $41.8 Billion A Year
Including lost tax revenues, a 2007 study found that enforcing the marijuana prohibition costs tax payers $41.8 billion annually, <a href="http://www.forbes.com/2007/09/29/marijuana-laws-work-biz-cx_qh_1001pot.html" target="_hplink">Forbes</a> reports.
California Marijuana Crop Worth $14 Billion A Year
Marijuana growers account for <a href="http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1884956,00.html" target="_hplink">$14 billion a year in sales in California</a>, making it the state's most valuable cash crop, TIME reports.
Illegal Marijuana A $36 Billion A Year Industry
It's estimated that <a href="http://madamenoire.com/106691/capitalizing-on-the-billion-dollar-marijuana-industry/" target="_hplink">illegal marijuana is a $36 billion industry</a> in the U.S., MadameNoire reports.
One-Third Of Americans Think Legalization Would Boost The Economy
About one-third of Americans say they think <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/20/legalizing-pot-will-not-b_n_544526.html?" target="_hplink">legalizing marijuana would boost the economy</a>, according to a 2010 poll by Associated Press-CNBC.
Dispensary Ads Boost Newspapers' Revenue
The <em>Sacramento News and Review</em> saw a big boost in ad revenue when it offered advertising space for more than 60 medical marijuana dispensaries, enabling the publication to hire three additional employees, <a href="http://www.news10.net/news/local/article/144285/2/Marijuana-ads-mean-big-money-for-weekly-newspaper" target="_hplink">according to News 10</a>.
Mendocino Zip Tie Program Raised $600,000
Mendocino County, California's zip tie program aimed at regulating medical marijuana growing by charging permits for each plant raised <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/09/medical-marijuana-license-mendocino_n_1193198.html" target="_hplink">$600,000 in revenue in for the Sheriff's department</a> in 2011.
Oakland Raised More Than $1 Million In Marijuana Tax Revenue
The city of Oakland, California raised $1.3 million in tax revenue from medical marijuana dispensaries in 2011, 3 percent of the city's total business tax revenue, according to <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/12/us/cities-turn-to-a-crop-for-cash-medical-marijuana.html?_r=1" target="_hplink"><em>The New York Times</em></a>.
Colorado Pulls In $5 Million From Pot Sales Tax
In 2011, Colorado pulled in $5 milllion in sales taxes from medical marijuana businesses, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/12/us/cities-turn-to-a-crop-for-cash-medical-marijuana.html?_r=1" target="_hplink"><em>The New York Times</em></a> reports.
Legal Marijuana Could Be $100 Billion Industry
Economist Stephen Easton estimated in 2010 that <a href="http://www.businessweek.com/debateroom/archives/2010/03/legalize_mariju.html" target="_hplink">legal marijuana could be a $45 to $100 billion industry</a>, <em>Bloomberg Businessweek</em> reports.
Each weGrow Center Creates 75 Jobs
When hydroponic marijuana growing supply chain weGrow opens a new store it <a href="http://aznow.biz/small-biz/wegrow-phoenix-opens-cultivates-opportunities-arizona)" target="_hplink">creates an estimated 75 jobs</a> indirectly, according to AZBusiness Magazine.
Majority Of States Support Taxing Marijuana
More than <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/20/legalizing-pot-will-not-b_n_544526.html?" target="_hplink">60 percent of states agree with taxing marijuana</a>, according to a poll by Associated Press-CNBC.
Marijuana Affects Workplace Motivation
A Norwegian study 25 years in the making came to the shocking conclusion that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/24/marijuana-use-has-adverse-affect-workplace-motivation_n_1300278.html?" target="_hplink">frequent marijuana use lowers employees' motivation at work</a>.
More Than 1,000 Dispensaries In California
There could be more than 1,000 medical marijuana dispensaries operating in California, <a href="http://www.pasadenaweekly.com/cms/story/detail/how_does_your_pot_grow/8070/" target="_hplink"><em>Pasadena Weekly</em></a> reported in 2009.
Denver Counts More Dispensaries Than Starbucks
As of July 2011, the city of Denver <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/06/medical-marijuana-denver-starbucks_n_891796.html" target="_hplink">counted more medical marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks franchises</a>.