commentary:

Time for Heller to stand up to Sessions on marijuana

In 2016, Nevada voters overwhelming decided to legalize marijuana. In 2017, recreational sales officially started. The economic impact of this well-regulated industry has so far exceeded expectations, spurring hundreds of new businesses to open here and creating thousands of new jobs. Tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue from legal sales are now flowing into the state budget, which will allow us to continue to bolster public school funding. Suffering cancer patients and struggling veterans also have access to medical marijuana in Nevada.

But the Trump administration is now suddenly refusing to recognize our state’s right to grow this industry. Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a controversial decision to rescind the Obama-era Cole Memo. This drastic change in enforcement policy opens the door to the federal government interfering with and possibly going after our small businesses and residents. Our marijuana industry is entirely homegrown, so this would disproportionately and negatively affect Nevadans.

Following the Great Recession, Nevadans answered bipartisan calls to diversify and expand our economy by creating a marijuana industry that includes manufacturing, finance, retail and other sectors. We should be proud that entrepreneurs have created an entirely new industry for Nevadans by Nevadans. It is our industry to grow, and ours to lose. The stakes are clear: We should protect our progress. But, I ask you, where is our senior senator in fighting back against what the Trump administration is trying to do?

So far, Republican Sen. Dean Heller’s response has been a huge disappointment.

While the Democrats in our federal delegation spoke out loudly and clearly against rescinding the Cole Memo, Heller’s reaction was so weak as to raise the question of whether he wants Nevada’s cannabis industry to survive at all. His tepid response defers responsibility and leaves him teetering on the edge of irrelevance, as his noncommittal statement did not even criticize the Justice Department’s actions.

Heller’s empty statement also stood in stark contrast to some of his Republican colleagues — like Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Cory Gardner — who issued harsh rebukes of Sessions. Even Danny Tarkanian, Heller’s GOP primary challenger, forcefully condemned the federal overreach.

In Colorado, Gardner is showing what real leadership looks like. Hours after the news broke, he delivered a fiery Senate floor speech, while Heller has never once spoken out against President Trump on the Senate floor. Gardner plans to hold up every single nomination the Justice Department sends to the Senate; Heller is a rubber stamp for every nominee Trump puts forward.

Nevadans will vote in November to decide who should represent them in the U.S. Senate, and this issue will be on their minds. The antiquated and disproven view of marijuana as a dangerous drug is wrong and out of step with public opinion, which shows nearly two-thirds of Americans support federal legalization of marijuana.

Republican candidates who don’t engage in this fight and offer nothing more than lip service will rightly be seen as out of touch.

Heller publicly opposed Question 2 in 2016. Last year, Heller helped confirm Sessions as attorney general — voting to approve his nomination despite a lengthy record of fringe positions. Heller is the only senator up for re-election in 2018 who is from a state with legalized recreational marijuana and who voted to confirm Sessions.

Democrats have a strong candidate running for Heller’s seat in Rep. Jacky Rosen — a proven community leader who publicly supported Question 2 before it passed. Rosen is working in Congress to support Nevada’s legal marijuana industry. She is an ally on this issue, and I know she won’t waver in that commitment. She is co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill that would effectively ban any potential federal prosecutions against legally operating marijuana businesses in states like ours.

I’ve worked for years to help legalize marijuana in Nevada, and the success of the past six months confirmed that voters made the right call in 2016. Our representatives in Washington need to work with us and do everything possible to protect this industry.

It’s time for Sen. Heller to stop making political calculations and start using his position to stand up to the White House. Call Heller’s office at 202-224-6244 and tell him he needs to fight for these Nevada jobs and businesses.

Tick Segerblom is a native Nevadan who was first elected to the Assembly in 2006, where he served three terms before switching to the state Senate in 2012.