Sen. Mitt Romney made a stop at Capitol Hill on Thursday to tell lawmakers he wants to reclassify marijuana, minimize federal control of public lands and come to an “international understanding” when it comes to climate change.
“I’m kind of a renegade Republican when it comes to some of these things,” Romney told the House Democrats over lunch. “I do believe that we want to keep our air clean; we should enforce strict CAFE [Corporate Average Fuel Economy] limits on our car makers, and I believe that we need to be much more involved on a global basis to help other countries that are the new big contributors to greenhouse gases to become part of an effort to bring that growth in greenhouse gas down.”
The senator told the Democrats he also did not approve of the U.S. leaving the Paris Agreement—the framework agreed on by 195 nations to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions—last year.
But Romney’s visit wasn’t just to extend an olive branch to the Democrats. His trip included meetings with Utah House and Senate Republicans ahead of his town hall in West Jordan later that day.
When asked about scheduling marijuana as a Class II instead of a Class I drug, Romney told the Republican caucus that he wants to work with people in Washington, D.C., to make that happen. He recounted a meeting with a state treasurer who complained how businesses dealing with medical cannabis can’t deposit their money in banks and have to trade in cash.
“It’s an absolute mess,” Romney said. “Also, layered on top of that mess, is there’s never really been a study on what is the actual benefit of taking a cannabis-related product. What is the right dosage? What are the side effects? We don’t know any of those things,” he continued. “Getting it as a Class II drug would allow us to do that kind of testing and would allow the right kind of financial services to be available. You’d think, given how many states have medicinal marijuana and/or recreational marijuana, that there would be some folks to line up to make that happen.”
However, Romney stressed, he’s still in support of outlawing recreational marijuana and wants to enforce federal laws. “I do not favor recreational marijuana,” he said.
As for regulating public lands in Utah, convicted-lawbreaker-turned-lawmaker Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, asked about any potential changes to the Antiquities Act.
“I think what we have to have the Antiquities Act reformed is something to give the Democrats,” Romney said. “Their base is absolutely opposed to any changes.”
Romney, who together with Sen. Mike Lee introduced legislation that would have exempted Utah from the Antiquities Act, also said he wants to see more land returned to state management. “I think [the state] could do a better job managing the land,” the former Massachusetts governor said. In some cases, he bemoaned, you can drive for miles and see swathes of trees destroyed by beetles in national forests.
“I’d like to see the state be able to take out the dead wood and put it through lumber mills so it can be used in housing construction and so forth,” Romney said.
Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, praised the senator for some of his help with the Emery County Public Lands bill—a piece of legislation that establishes about 578,000 acres of wilderness but leaves out key features, like protections for thousands more acres in the San Rafael Swell area, according to public lands advocates. About 92 percent of land in the county is designated as public land and managed by federal or state agencies.
“I look at how much land is federal land in Emery County and frankly, I just can’t get over it ...” Romney said. “Over 90 percent of the county is federal land, and somehow, we gotta push back against that. This is true for much of the West of our country.”