"Cancer took 65 pounds off of me and beat the hell out of me," says Wilbert "Billy" Tauzin, the former congressman from Louisiana's third district. "Now I'm watching patients use medical marijuana products to get through that a lot easier than I did, and I'm thinking, 'Wow, why didn't we have that opportunity 15 years ago?'"
After serving in Congress from 1980 to 1995 as a Democrat and from 1995 to 2005 as a Republican, Tauzin made his way through the revolving door to PhRMA, the lobbying powerhouse that represents the American pharmaceutical industry. Now 75, Tauzin is living a third—some might say fourth—act as an advocate for marijuana reform with LenitivLabs, the medical cannabis company founded by TV host Montel Williams.
At this year's Cannabis World Congress and Business Exposition in New York City, Tauzin spoke to Reason's Nick Gillespie about the politics of pot.
Q: Do all former congressmen have to get cancer before we're going to get medical marijuana or recreational marijuana?
A: God, I hope not. I told the audience today that if Congress did a secret ballot, we'd win tomorrow easily.
Q: A lot of people in the legalization space are worried that Big Pharma will try to keep marijuana from becoming legal so it can't compete with their existing products. Are those concerns warranted?
A: The pharmaceutical industry is all about finding new medicines, and when it's legally possible for them to go to the [Food and Drug Administration] with medical marijuana products, they're going to be doing that. They're probably going to come around to cannabis entrepreneurs who've pioneered these medicines, and they're going to want to talk to you about acquiring your companies one day. But I don't think they're going to fight it.
Q: Donald Trump said he would sign a bill returning marijuana laws and regulation to the states. Are you confident Congress will actually vote on something and Trump will sign it?
A: I think they want to do that. It's just a question of giving them the courage to do it. As to Trump keeping his word: You may not like him one bit, but he keeps his word. He's doing exactly what he said he would, to a lot of people's consternation.
Q: What's the timeline for full legalization of marijuana? Is it 10 years, is it 15 years, is it already happening and we'll go outside of this convention center and it'll be a done deal?
A: I've learned something about the progress of mankind: Anytime you try to predict something, it's going to take longer than you think. But this is moving fast. The tide has turned. We're past the tipping point. Ain't no coming back. I think this is going to happen within five years.
This interview has been condensed and edited for style and clarity. For a video version, go to reason.com.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Former Congressman and Pharma Lobbyist Billy Tauzin Comes Around on Cannabis".