U.S. Rep. Denny Heck says he ended up voting for Washington’s marijuana legalization initiative last fall and thinks the federal government now needs to take steps to let the state put Initiative 502 into effect. Among the changes: Shed the federal Drug Enforcement Agency’s Schedule 1 listing marijuana of marijuana as a “most dangerous” drug with no accepted medical use, which he called “the height of silliness.”
“My position is that the federal government’s regulations ought to enable states to implement voter approved laws or legislatively approved laws in this regard. I actually think that having marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug is the height of silliness. Meth is a Schedule 2 drug. I mean, this just makes no sense. It’s nuts,” Heck said Wednesday. “I’ve also always supported allowing marijuana to be used medically … in a prescribed way.”
The Olympia Democrat, who was sworn in just 2 ½ months ago to represent the state’s new 10th Congressional District, spoke to The Olympian editorial board on a slew of topics in his first visit to his hometown paper since taking office.
In last fall’s campaign when he defeated Republican Dick Muri of Steilacoom, Heck did not publicly support I-502 when asked during an Oct. 11 debate in Olympia, while Muri did support it. But in his editorial board meeting, Heck indicated his view changed late in the election.
“I personally voted for it. I didn’t take a clear and fast position on it during the campaign. I was thinking long and hard. [His spouse] Paula is the one who actually got me there,” he said.
Heck said marijuana issues already have “many leaders” in Congress and he won’t seek to play a leading role. He mentioned Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, and Rep. Ed Permutter, D-Colorado as two who are taking a lead and he said he’d had conversations with Permutter, who is a senior member of the same House Financial Services Committee that he is on about changes in banking law.
“The opportunity I’m looking for is how we might change the law that would allow banks to feel as though they could be the bank for a business … Now I don’t know where they are going to bank. The problem with not changing the law is it (the marijuana industry) becomes 100 percent cash based,” Heck said. “And we’re not talking about a nickel here. We’re talking about hundreds of millions if not billions even in this state. You don’t want a cash economy of that size because of all the frankly bad things that could come as a result.”
That said, Heck said “you know it’s going to be a tough sell legislatively to get Republicans to enact anything that allows us to implement our law. But there will be efforts and I predict over time this is going to happen. This is one of those situations where, as the states begin to fall, and they are beginning to set up for that, that we’re going to have to make [the federal laws] more rational.”
Heck said the No. 1 issue he gets messages about is gun control – after the school massacre last December in Newtown, Conn.
He said he favors universal background checks for all gun purchases, although he is sympathetic to the need for a grandfather to be able to hand down an heirloom weapon to a descendant.
“Clearly, clearly universal background checks are something we already have for people who purchase through a gun store,’’ Heck said. He supports the checks for gun shows and private sales.
The lawmaker who ran on a slogan to “Give Congress Heck!” said he has optimism about passing legislation that deals with the straw sales but is less optimistic about universal background checks, which also failed in the Washington Legislature last month.
Heck said he also favors laws that have evidence to show they work. He also wants to clamp down on the ability for a person who can legally buy a gun to do that for someone who should not have a weapon, which he called “straw purchases.” He also wants to let the Centers for Disease Control to track gun violence injuries and to acknowledge that gun rights can be limited lawfully in the interest of community safety [his example was laws preventing private ownership of a bazooka].
He said there has been agreement to start gun legislation in the Senate, and whatever the Senate can pass is likely the high-water mark once the issue goes the House. He said he takes Republican Speaker John Boehner “at his word that they will seriously consider any measure that comes from the Senate.’’
Heck has been speaking out against the federal sequestration budget cuts, including news last week that small airports in Tacoma, Tumwater and Renton are losing air traffic controllers. Heck still thinks the across-the-board cuts are the wrong way to go.
“One of the things I wish there was a lot more talk about is how to grow this nation’s economy ….there isn’t enough focus on growing the economy,’’ Heck said.
But Heck said there has been some progress since Jan. 1 – in that Congress did not send the country over the fiscal cliff and talk of shutting down the government has subsided.
In recent weeks Heck also has been advocating for completion of the final spur of State Route 167 into the Port of Tacoma, which he said a consultant estimates is worth 78,000 Puget Sound jobs over the next decade. He said he has spoken to state lawmakers and thinks a state transportation package needs to be passed din the Legislature to make the final leg a reality.
Heck faces re-election in fall 2014 and said he has resisted the pressure to start campaigning already. But he said he received an email saying that Republican Stan Flemming of University Place, who lost in the 2012 primary, has done fundraising to retire debt from that campaign and also plans to run again next year.
Although Heck had a fundraiser Tuesday night, he said: “I can’t quite get there yet.’’