Heck: Pot law needs assist from feds

Congressman says I-502 needs to be allowed to take effect

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photo"There is a pent-up hunger in America for problem-solving." Denny Heck Congressman-elect, 10th District

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 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," Heck said. "(Methamphetamine) is a Schedule 2 drug. I mean, this just makes no sense. It's nuts."

The Olympia Democrat, who was sworn in this year 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, Heck did not publicly support I-502 when asked during an Oct. 11 debate in Olympia. But in his Wednesday 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. Paula (his wife) 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 said he has had conversations with Rep. Ed Permutter, a Colorado Democrat and senior member of the same House Financial Services Committee, about changes in banking law to allow banks to do business with pot enterprises.

"The problem with not changing the law is (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."

Heck said the No. 1 issue he hears from voters about is gun control. 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.

Heck 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."

The lawmaker, who ran on a slogan to "Give Congress Heck!" said he is optimistic about passing legislation that deals with the straw sales but is less confident about the chances for universal background checks, which also failed in the state Legislature last month.

Heck faces re-election in fall 2014 and said he has resisted the pressure to start campaigning already.