Carlos Curbelo: Leave Marijuana to the States


U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., continued his efforts to ensure marijuana policy is left to the states.

Earlier this month, Curbelo appeared on the “Cannabis Economy” podcast with Seth Adler and he called on the Trump administration to leave marijuana to the states.

“As far as Carlos Curbelo is concerned, way back in January, when the attorney general rescinded the Cole Memos, what was your reaction?” Adler asked.

“Extreme disappointment,” Curbelo said. “I had a lot of faith that the president wanted to keep his promise during the campaign, that he would leave this issue to the states, which is where it belongs. And I wouldn’t say I was necessarily surprised, given the attorney general’s history on the issue and his past statements, but many people are under the impression that he acted unilaterally and really without any strong supporter indications from the White House.”

“So many people like me or many people here in Washington?” Adler asked.

“Here in Washington too,” Curbelo answered. “I mean there is a strong bipartisan majority here in the Congress that rejects that decision and that supports rational policies regarding marijuana.”

“Some of those are the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, you have signed on to that; the McClintock-Polis amendment, you have signed onto that,” Adler said. “Just share with us your thoughts regarding those amendments, one which is in place, one which will hopefully be.”

“Well these amendments are about federalism,” Curbelo insisted. “They’re about state’s rights, they’re about the federal government staying out of state affairs and the fact is that we have dozens of states in this country, including mine, Florida, where 71 percent of voters voted to amend the constitution to allow medical marijuana, and those states are sovereign and the people of those states are sovereign and they should be treated as such. So, because the federal government still has an irrational policy set when it comes to marijuana, cannabis, that’s why we support these appropriations amendments that would defund any enforcement action having to do with, in one case with medical marijuana, in the other case, adult use of marijuana, in states that have approved it.”

“You are not only supporting states’ rights in your conversation that you’re having with me but you are demonstrating a level of knowledge that not necessarily many members of Congress have,” Adler said. “Why is this an issue that you care about beyond the states’ rights?”

“Well, I got into this issue from a tax angle,” Curbelo replied. “I’m on the Ways and Means Committee, that’s the committee that handles all tax policy here on the House side, and Section 280E first caught my attention. I said, ‘How come if you are a legal, licensed business in a state, the federal tax code discriminates against you by not allowing you to deduct your business expenses?’ So that was my foray into this marijuana issue, and for a long time that’s all I was focused on, but as I learned more about the issue I decided to become active more broadly in all of the different laws that address marijuana in the United States. And that’s why I took these positions, and I really believe that the more we educate members here on both sides, but especially on the Republican side where we have more room for growth, the more we educate members, the more will sign on to these commonsense changes to the law that will actually help us regulate this substance, keep it away from children, which no one wants to see, and put all the illegal drug dealers out of business.

“So this is such an obvious issue, and I really think we’re just so close to having a major breakthrough here where a bipartisan majority is allowed to act in favor of a more logical policy set,” Curbelo continued.

“We’re on the precipice of a major breakthrough – is that specific or is that a general feeling that you have?”  Adler asked.

“I’d say it’s a general feeling, but I think the attorney general’s action in January has actually helped strengthen our coalition here and has drawn a lot of attention to the issue,” Curbelo answered. “And a lot of Republicans, mostly libertarian-leaning and centrist Republicans, are now speaking up, and saying, ‘A lot of us haven’t focused on this issue in the past, but now there is an urgency and we want to do the right thing by so many states and so many voters who have made a choice – by so many patients throughout this country that rely on some of these products for their wellbeing.’ We’re learning more and more about potential benefits every day. The opioid crisis in the United States is a hot topic here in Congress, and it turns out there are some studies that are now showing that medical marijuana can be an off ramp for those who are addicted to opioids.

“So people are learning so much here every day. I’ve had a lot of one of one conversations… but more and more members are paying attention to this issue and more and more they are signing on to some of these ideas that make sense,” Curbelo added.

As Curbelo noted, in March 2017, he teamed up with U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oreg., to bring out the “Small Business Tax Equity Act” which changes Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code which ensures that businesses which sell marijuana are not able to deduct their expenses from their taxes. Noting that several states now allow the sale of medical marijuana, Curbelo and Blumenauer proposed to allow businesses that are legally allowed to sell marijuana deduct their expenses just like other businesses do.

“One of my goals in Congress is to ensure the law treats all enterprises with fairness and equity; giving them the opportunity to grow and prosper,” Curbelo said when he unveiled the proposal. “This bill clarifies our federal tax code for those marijuana businesses operating legally and in compliance with state regulations by providing tax parity. The IRS code should afford all businesses selling legal products the opportunity to make appropriate deductions. This legislation is consistent with our federalist model of government, respecting states’ rights and the decisions made voters all across the country.”

“As more states follow Oregon’s leadership in legalizing and regulating marijuana, too many businesses are trapped between federal and state laws. It’s not right, and it’s not fair,” said Blumenauer. “This discriminatory tax law undercuts the effort to bring this industry out of the shadows, advance the rule of law, and tilts the playing field against small businesses that are following state laws and creating jobs.”

The proposal won the support of a number of groups including Americans for Tax Reform, the National Cannabis Industry Association, Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Policy Project, Americans for Safe Access and NORML.

Curbelo and Blumenauer also sent a letter to their congressional colleagues, noting that more than 30 states, including Florida, permit the legal selling of marijuana in some form or another. In that letter, the two congressmen insisted on treating marijuana businesses like other industries will ensure they play by the rules.

“Barring marijuana businesses from operating like a normal industry encourages criminal activity and tax evasion, deterring good legal actors from opening in the first place and forcing other underground,” they wrote.

The bill is being championed in the Senate by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oreg., with U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., as the chief co-sponsor.