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The Cannabis Industry Lobbies on Capitol Hill for Banking & Equity

Cannabis Industry Lobbies for Equity in D.C.
Photo by Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now


The Cannabis Industry Lobbies on Capitol Hill for Banking & Equity

The cannabis industry lit up Capitol Hill this week, as advocates lobbied their representatives, focusing on the push for banking access and a more equitable industry for the communities hit hardest by the War on Drugs.

Over the past nine years, the National Cannabis Industry Association lobby days have been a hallmark of the progress we’ve seen in the cannabis industry, as the swarm of industry members heading to Washington, D.C. has only grown each year. This year, from May 21 to 23, about 300 people from the cannabis industry traveled to Capitol Hill to push their representatives to pass the SAFE Banking Act and increase equity in the marijuana industry for the communities targeted the most by cannabis prohibition.

The first day, cannabis industry professionals focused on the SAFE Banking Act. The bill would protect financial institutions hoping to work with state-legal cannabis businesses. NCIA says it will address the public safety concerns caused by cash-heavy dispensaries and other transparency issues. The bill currently has 182 cosponsors in the House of Representatives and should go to a full vote in the near future, making the lobby day effort a timely one.

After a morning brief on the current state of the bill from Colorado Democrat Rep. Ed Perlmutter, NCIA, the American Bankers Association, ForwardGro and the Safe and Responsible Banking Alliance, hundreds of cannabis professionals hit Capitol Hill to explain the urgent need for immediate banking access to their representatives.

“It was an exciting opportunity to thank supporters and educate other members of Congress on what should be bipartisan issues,” Berkeley Patients Group Vice President and Co-Owner Etienne Fontan told Cannabis Now. “Public safety and social equity, access to banking and the effects of IRS [tax code section] 280E are fundamental to the protection of the public and the industry, and the advancement of those disproportionately affected by the war on drugs, as we transition into this newly regulated market. Eternal vigilance takes your input and your democracy won’t survive without your voice.”

Pushing for Equity in the Cannabis Industry

On the second day, NCIA was joined by the Minority Cannabis Business Association. Representatives of the Congressional Black and Hispanic Caucuses joined the organizations for a briefing on tangible practices to help policymakers at the federal, state and local levels ensure the legal cannabis industry empowers the groups of people who have historically been criminalized by cannabis prohibition.

Another aspect participants looked at is how constantly changing cannabis laws can be crafted to repair some of the harms caused by the policies of the past.

“As more and more states move to legalize cannabis, including California, we must ensure that federal laws respect the choice of voters across the country,” said Rep. Salud Carbajal, a Democrat from California, told the crowd. “Congress must provide certainty and equity to the cannabis industry, including allowing them to access our banking system like other small businesses. The Central Coast is playing a significant part of the emerging legal cannabis industry and it is important that we remove the federal barriers handicapping this growing industry.”

A big part of the day revolved around NCIA’s new report, “Increasing Equity in the Cannabis Industry: Six Achievable Goals for Policy Makers.” The report was officially released at the event. Another major talking point on the day was MCBA’s Model Municipal Social Equity Ordinance.

“MCBA continues to work collaboratively with industry, community and policymakers to ensure equitable cannabis policy,” said Shanita Penny, president of MCBA. “Equitable cannabis policy addresses the needs and concerns of stakeholders often forgotten — the communities devastated by the failed War on Drugs. Our Model Municipal Social Equity Ordinance is a tool that cities throughout the country are using already and with their feedback, we’ve begun working on the next version as we navigate the nation’s fastest-growing industry.”

Penny’s sentiments were echoed by NCIA Executive Director Aaron Smith.

“As industry advocates, we have a responsibility to ensure that the cannabis industry benefits the people who have been most harmed by prohibition,” said Smith. “We are proud of the work we have been doing with lawmakers and business leaders to bring this issue to the forefront, make this industry accessible to everyone, and develop the practices and resources we need to start undoing the decades of damage that our outdated marijuana policies have wreaked on people of color and poor communities.”

The Biggest Cannabis Lobby Day So Far

NCIA Media Director Morgan Fox said nearly 300 NCIA members from around the country came out and met with roughly half the members of Congress to promote sensible cannabis policy reform.

“It’s a great opportunity for cannabis business leaders who are really invested in advocacy and making a difference to network and support each other while getting us all closer to ending prohibition,” said Fox.

“Aside from the meetings with lawmakers, we hosted several successful events including a legislative briefing to discuss how to push the SAFE Banking Act to passage this year, a PAC fundraiser where 15 representatives and one senator stopped by to encourage and mingle with attendees, and a briefing hosted with NCIA and the Minority Cannabis Business Association to release our newest paper on what policymakers can do to promote fairness, equity, and diversity in the industry,” said Fox.

Fox said it was NCIA’s biggest year so far, and he is confident that next year will see even more dedicated members joining them on the hill. “Next year’s lobby days will be particularly important, given the potential impact of the 2020 elections on federal cannabis policy,” he said.

Kris Krane has spent the last 20 years helping the industry get to this point, first as associate director at NORML and then at the helm of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. He currently serves on NCIA’s board. Two months ago, he made waves when he called on his pot industry comrades to support home growing in states going legal.

“NCIA Lobby Days are one of the most important and inspiring events of the year,” Krane told Cannabis Now. “Three hundred cannabis industry professionals met with nearly every member of Congress to help advance our priorities on the Hill. I hope next year we have twice as many people turn out. Members of Congress need to hear from those impacted by federal cannabis laws.”

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