Massachusetts is one of 10 states that has legalized recreational marijuana. But it's still illegal on the federal level, resulting in a confusing patchwork of conflicting laws. Michael Correia, known on Capitol Hill as "The Pot Lobbyist," is working to change this. WGBH Morning Edition anchor Joe Mathieu spoke with Correia while in Washington D.C. to talk about his efforts to legalize pot around the country and a recent attempt by Senator Elizabeth Warren to protect states that have already gotten that far. This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Michael Correia This is my sixth year doing this and this is the first time where I've actually had a Congress with Democrats in control of [the] House where a difference can be made and we can actually have something come out. It's been really hard over the years with the Republicans in control where they just didn't want to have an open minded discussion about this issue. You knew where the states were going; you could see that one state after the other was doing it and Congress just wasn't willing to debate this. And so with the states act Senator Warren was trying to do an incremental approach. This isn't legalization at the federal level it was allowing the states to go forward and being able to operate and implement without fear of federal prosecution. So it's a great first step. Why Congress didn't even debate that, have a hearing, talk about it, talk about the legislation is beyond me. I think this is going to be a really good year 2019 to have that discussion, at least in the House, and gain some momentum and maybe in the Senate side. And so from a state perspective, what I deal with in Congress is chicken and egg. You know, what goes first? Does Congress go first and allow the states to go forward, or do the states break federal law to get enough momentum going, to where Congress now has an interest or want to do it. And so that's what I've been dealing with.
Joe Mathieu It's been the latter so far, which by the way we're reminded, is not unlike how alcohol prohibition was lifted. That was also piecemeal. But it's been a pretty long time for these companies. The dispensaries, the growers...they they can't even use banks because of federal law. Is that where we should start, with banking?
Michael Correia Well, the two big issues that I come from: one, we come from a business perspective -- sort of the Chamber of Commerce of Cannabis -- and our issues are allowing the businesses to operate legally and function. And so that is access to financial services, having regular banking services. And the other is a provision in a tax law that's a prohibitive tax on our businesses. So they're not able to reinvest in their companies hire new employees and just grow and be treated like every other small business in America. I think legalization is going to happen at the federal level but it's going to be years away. What can Congress do today to allow a state like Massachusetts to operate without fear of federal prosecution and the cannabis industry businesses operate just like every other small business in America?
Joe Mathieu You mentioned the idea of federal legalization coast to coast. Congressman Joe Kennedy is another one of our politicians who has come around on that, and thinks it's time to do it.
Michael Correia Yeah he's he's a great example. And I haven't talked with him personally to know if it's a personal experience and a personal epiphany or he just sees the reality of where this is going in the state. I've seen the polling, I know where the public stands on this issue and when 70, 80, and 90 percent of the population agrees with an issue, that's a slam dunk. And politicians are gonna be former politicians if they're not on the right side of this. And so, I try to tell people that this is where America's going. You can't stop that. All you can do is get your mayor marijuana message correct and get on the right side of history at the state level. That's where the argument should be at the federal level. I just want people in Massachusetts to have that discussion and be able to operate.