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Lamborn is lone ranger among Colorado delegation in supporting pot crackdown

January 17, 2018 Updated: January 17, 2018 at 12:08 pm
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FILE - In this July 23, 2013, file photo, Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., speaks at the Christians United for Israel Washington Summit in Washington. A spokesman for the congressman said Monday, Sept. 29, 2014, that Rep. Doug Lamborn was not trying to undermine President Barack Obama's military actions in the Middle East by urging generals who disagreed with the president to resign "in a blaze of glory," in remarks Lamborn made last week in response to a question at a small gathering in Colorado Springs. The remarks, made as the military stepped up its campaign against the Islamic State militant group that has seized parts of Syria and Iraq, drew quick condemnation from Democrats and others when a recording circulated late last week. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

Colorado's congressional delegation continued their effort this week to block the federal government's new crackdown on marijuana use and sales ... except for one congressman.

Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, is siding with the Justice Department as it seeks to prosecute marijuana offenses under federal law, regardless of whether state laws in Colorado or elsewhere allow consumption and sale of cannabis.

"The federal government has the right and responsibility to uphold federal laws," Lamborn said in a statement.

He was referring to the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, a federal law that lists marijuana as an illegal drug.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions invoked the law this month when he rescinded an Obama administration policy described in the 2009 "Cole Memo," which advocated tolerance of state marijuana laws.

While his fellow Colorado congressmen talk about the economic and medical benefits of marijuana, Lamborn sees a public safety fiasco.

"The social costs of legalizing marijuana in Colorado have been steep, and the negative effects on children are particularly concerning," he said. "Since legalization, the number of calls to emergency poison control for children eight years and younger has tripled, thanks to the potency, attractiveness and availability of edibles. Youth arrests, particularly among minorities, have sharply increased."

One of the arguments discussed in the General Assembly for legalizing marijuana in 2014 was an opportunity to eliminate the black market created by drug cartels.

Lamborn says it has backfired.

"Rather than lessening criminal activity associated with marijuana, cartels have rushed into Colorado, resulting in 19 cartel operation busts in the last 18 months," he said. "If we're honest with ourselves, legalizing marijuana has been bad for the state of Colorado."

An example of Lamborn's underdog position on marijuana among Colorado's state and federal politicians emerged from a conference call last Friday between the U.S. Attorney for Colorado and Colorado congressmen.

The lawmakers were seeking assurances from U.S. Attorney Robert Troyer that he would not try to override state marijuana laws.

After the phone call, members of the Colorado delegation issued a joint statement saying, "If federal authorities were to suddenly reverse course and take punitive measures to undermine Colorado's marijuana statutes, it could create a chilling effect on an industry that employs thousands of people in our state, where sales now exceed $1 billion per year. We are united in the view that the federal government shouldn't subvert the will of our citizens expressed at the state level."

A press release from Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, added, "With the exception of Rep. Doug Lamborn, Colorado members of Congress are seeking support from congressional colleagues across the nation for several legislative steps to ensure the sanctity of Colorado's marijuana laws."

Statewide, support for marijuana remains strong in popular opinion polls. A 2015 survey by Quinnipiac University found 58 percent of Colorado voters support legalized marijuana, while 38 percent opposed it.

Among the initial opponents was Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper, who has called marijuana legalization "reckless." But Hickenlooper has also expressed opposition to Session's rescinding of the Cole memo.

In the latest back-and-forth struggle over legalization, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman joined 18 other state attorneys general in a letter sent Tuesday to congressional leaders urging them to allow banks to handle money derived from the marijuana industry.

Federal law now subjects banks to criminal and civil liability for "aiding and abetting" a federal crime and money laundering if they do business with anyone who earned money from sales of marijuana.

As a result, hundreds of licensed marijuana businesses lack access to the banking industry and are unable to accept credit cards, deposit their earnings or write checks to meet payroll or pay taxes. Instead, they accept only cash.

A bill reintroduced by Colorado U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Lakewood, last April would allow banks to deal with marijuana businesses without penalties.

The 19 attorneys general told congressional leaders the benefits of the bill, called the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, outweigh the concerns about illegal drug abuse in the Controlled Substances Act.

The SAFE Banking Act would "bring billions of dollars into the banking sector and give law enforcement the ability to monitor these transactions," the letter said. "Moreover, compliance with tax requirements would be simpler and easier to enforce with a better-defined tracking of funds."

Perlmutter added, "States are taking responsible steps to regulate the (marijuana) industry and we must ensure that includes access to the banking system."

Colorado U.S. senators Democrat Michael Bennet and Republican Cory Gardner sponsored a companion bill to the SAFE Banking Act in the Senate last May.

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