WASHINGTON (AP) — Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young says he never smoked marijuana, but he's a member of the newest caucus on Capitol Hill — the Cannabis Caucus.
Four House members announced the formation of the caucus on Thursday. While the name elicits smiles, the lawmakers said their intentions are serious: Keep federal policies from interfering with states as they enact laws that allow for recreational or medical marijuana.
"I believe in states' rights. Alaska voted to legalize it, pretty large margin," said Young, 83. "The federal government should stay out of it, period."
Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized small amounts of marijuana for adult recreational use. Another 28 states have legalized medical marijuana. The members of the newest caucus said they expect strong interest in joining their group based on the state trends.
"Once a state has acted, members of Congress are interested in defending and working with their constituencies," said Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo.
The leaders of the group include two Republicans, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California and Young. The Democratic co-chairmen are Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Polis.
For the record, the lawmakers, for the most part, said they don't use marijuana. Young said he's never used it and doesn't really believe in it. Polis said he's never used it either. Blumenauer said he is going to wait until marijuana is legal federally before using it. Rohrabacher said he recently had surgery on his arm and placed a candle infused with cannabis on it because of the pain.
"I got sleep for the first time in weeks after that," he said.
Among the group's goals: Keep the federal government from blocking research into marijuana for medical purposes and make it easier for marijuana businesses to operate. The businesses generally can't accept credit or debit cards due to card companies' fears about liability for money laundering or other offenses. Nor can they fully deduct their business expenses, Blumenauer said.