Marijuana Business Owners Rally On Capitol Hill As Cannabis Bills Gain Momentum
More than 200 cannabis industry leaders from almost half the states in the country are converging this week on Capitol Hill to tell lawmakers it’s time to modernize federal marijuana laws.
As part of the National Cannabis Industry Association’s (NCIA) lobby days, taking place Tuesday and Wednesday, marijuana business owners will hold at least 200 separate meetings with U.S. House and Senate offices. They are seeking support for a number of far-reaching bills that would limit or end the federal government’s interference with state cannabis laws and allow state-legal businesses to use banking services and be taxed more fairly.
Members of Congress from both parties spoke at a press conference hosted by the group outside the Capitol on Wednesday.
Following last year’s NCIA lobby days, several key pieces of marijuana legislation saw substantial upticks in the number of lawmakers signing on as cosponsors.
For example, one key concern for NCIA members is a bill to allow cannabis businesses to access banks. Within a little over a month from the 2017 lobby days, 18 new House members joined as cosponsors. Three of those signed up right away, on the first day of NCIA’s event.
The legislation, which is still pending, now has 90 cosponsors, the most of any standalone piece of marijuana reform legislation in history. Similar banking legislation filed in 2015 only garnered a total of 39 cosponsors by the end of the 114th Congress.
Companion marijuana banking legislation was filed in the Senate the day before NCIA’s activists took to Capitol Hill for the 2017 lobbying meetings. The initial cosponsor list of eight senators has steadily risen to a current 16. The earlier version of that bill closed out the 114th Congress with only 11 cosponsors.
Another priority for NCIA members is scaling back a federal law, known as 280E, that disallows them from taking tax deductions that are available to businesses in other industries. Legislation to repeal that provision’s application to state-legal cannabis operators got 12 new cosponsors within two months of the group’s last constituent lobbying effort. It now has 44 lawmakers signed on. An earlier version only got 18 cosponsors altogether.
On the Senate side, current companion legislation now has six cosponsors, one of whom signed on within days of NCIA’s last lobby days, whereas the previous Senate 280E bill only got four cosponsors by the time the 114th Congress adjourned in early 2017.
It is likely that these bills, as well as others that NCIA is targeting, will see additional cosponsor bumps after this week’s Capitol Hill effort, especially since more state legal marijuana programs have since come online or expanded since last year’s lobby days. As a result, more members of Congress now represent more constituents who are directly impacted by current policy.
The stepped-up effort from marijuana business owners comes as several other pieces of cannabis legislation are drawing record support from lawmakers.
A bill filed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to legalize hemp, for example, already has more than a fifth of the body signed on as cosponsors after little more than a month since it was introduced. That includes Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who typically doesn’t team up with his rival party leader on many issues.
Wide-ranging racial justice legislation filed this month by members of the Congressional Black Caucus includes a provision to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. It already has 44 cosponsors, giving it the most support of any cannabis descheduling bill ever introduced in Congress.
A Senate bill that would deschedule marijuana and withhold federal funding from states with discriminatory enforcement now has five cosponsors, several of whom are expected to run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
For now, businesses owners who are directly impacted by outdated federal cannabis laws are making their voices heard on Capitol Hill at a time when a growing number of lawmakers from both parties are already signing on to marijuana bills at a record pace.
Stay tuned to Marijuana Moment’s legislative tracking tools to see how many more senators and representatives cosponsor key cannabis bills in the coming weeks.
(Disclosure: Marijuana Moment’s publisher helped to write and edit a new NCIA report on the impact of state marijuana laws.)
Photo courtesy of David.