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.
California Governor Signs Marijuana Tax Fairness Bill But Vetoes Cannabis In Hospitals
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced on Saturday that he signed several marijuana-related bills into law—including one that will let legal businesses take advantage of more tax deductions—but also vetoed another measure that would have allowed some patients to use medical cannabis in health care facilities.
Under a section of current federal law known as 280E, marijuana growers, processors and sellers are unable to deduct expenses from their taxes that businesses in any other sector would be able to write off. Until now, California policy simply mirrored the federal approach.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Carlos Gracia.
Former Congressman Who Fought Marijuana Legalization Joins Cannabis Company Board
A former GOP congressman with a long track record of opposing marijuana legalization efforts is now cashing in on the legal cannabis industry.
FSD Pharma, a Canadian company that is a licensed producer of “pharmaceutical grade cannabis” through its subsidiary FV Pharma and researches cannabinoid-based therapies, announced on Friday that former Rep. Steve Buyer (R-IN) joined its board of directors. Missing from the press release is mention of his legislative history that includes repeated actions to oppose federal protections for state-level marijuana reforms.
From 1998 to 2000, Buyer cosponsored two resolutions and one bill aimed at condemning legalization and upholding federal prohibition. His opposition extended to limited medical cannabis reforms, too, voting five times from 2003 to 2007 against an amendment to protect state laws and the patients and providers complying with them from federal prosecution.
One of the anti-marijuana resolutions he signed onto passed the House but did not advance in the Senate. As introduced, it characterized cannabis as “both dangerous and addictive” and stated that “Congress is unequivocally opposed to legalizing marijuana for medicinal use, and urges the defeat of State initiatives that would seek to legalize marijuana for medicinal use.”
The version that passed, which Buyer voted for, expressed concerns that “ambiguous cultural messages about marijuana use are contributing to a growing acceptance of marijuana use among children and teenagers” and noting that federal authorities can enforce prohibition “through seizure and other civil action, as well as through criminal penalties.”
The separate bill he cosponsored sought to declare state laws that allow cannabis use as “null and void.”
“[I]t is the intent of the Congress to supersede any and all laws of the States and units of local government insofar as they may now or hereafter effectively permit or purport to authorize the use, growing, manufacture, distribution, or importation by an individual or group of marijuana or any controlled substance which differs from the provisions of the Controlled Substances Act and the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act or regulations issued pursuant thereto,” it read.
It’s not quite clear what changed for Buyer, but his appointment to the board of a major marijuana company that has benefitted from the successful reform movement he opposed is sure to raise questions.
In response to Marijuana Moment’s query about what accounted for the former congressman’s evolution on the issue, FSD Pharma President Zeeshan Saeed simply replied, “3M options as all other Directors and $40k cash comp.”
Hours later, Saeed clarified that he intended to send that reply to another journalist.
Raza Bokhari, executive co-chairman and CEO of FSD Pharma, said in a subsequent email that he’s known Buyer for years and believes that while he “remains opposed to recreational use of cannabis,” he “has come to recognize the potential of cannabinoid molecule in drug development targeting auto-immune diseases, especially the role of synthetic cannabinoids and other cannabinoids targeting the endocannibinoid system of the human body.”
The former congressman has been on “a very personal journey, with his wife being plagued with an auto-immune disease that has no cure and others in her family also that suffer from auto-immune diseases,” Bokhari said.
He added that Buyer has personally invested a quarter of a million dollars in the company and compared him to former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who also joined the marijuana industry after opposing cannabis reform while serving in Congress.
In a press release announcing the appointment, Buyer said the “opportunity to participate in FSD’s growth at this stage is exciting” and that he’s “attracted by FSD’s medical research to tame and define the unknown by challenging the edges of medical science to provide relief to people suffering from fibromyalgia and other serious illnesses.”
In welcoming Steve Buyer to the FSD Pharma Board of Directors and announcing a share consolidation, the Company has made an immense positive stride forward https://t.co/aAP9cM2kAi
— FSD Pharma (@FsdPharma) October 11, 2019
One industry that the former congressman’s actions did assist while in office and later went on to work for as a lobbyist is Big Tobacco. Buyer raised eyebrows in 2009 when he opposed legislation to regulate the tobacco industry and argued in a House floor speech that a person is just as likely to experience the health consequences of cigarettes if they were to smoke dried lettuce or grass. He insisted that it’s “smoke that kills, not the nicotine.”
Shortly after retiring, Buyer joined tobacco company Reynolds American as a lobbyist and paid consultant.
There have been several reports that noted Buyer’s decision not to run for reelection in 2010 came amid controversy over a foundation he founded. The Frontier Foundation was supposed to provide educational funding for students, but while it raked in tens of thousands from pharmaceutical interests such as Ely Lilly and PhRMA over a three-year period, it reportedly hadn’t distributed a single scholarship.
His retirement came months after USA Today and the Indianapolis Star reported on the foundation’s activities.
But now, Buyer is entering the cannabis space, and the company described his experience in the pharmaceutical industry and Congress as an asset.
“In welcoming Steve Buyer to the FSD Pharma Board of Directors and announcing a share consolidation, the Company has made an immense positive stride forward” FSD Pharma CEO Raza Bokhari said. “Steve’s addition has further strengthened the independence and profile of the FSD Pharma Board of Directors; his broad leadership experience and pharmaceutical industry relationships will help enhance our visibility, especially among U.S. Institutional investors and on U.S. Capitol Hill.”
Buyer also previously served as a special assistant U.S. attorney and an Indiana deputy attorney general.
This story has been updated to include additional comment from FSD Pharma’s CEO.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Inventors File Patent Application For Scratch-And-Sniff Marijuana Packages
Scratch-and-sniff marijuana packaging could be coming to a dispensary near you.
An application for a patent on the cannabis container concept was published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday. In order to comply with state regulations while at the same time ensuring consumers know what they’re buying, the inventors are pitching a secure package that uses non-THC volatiles to produce the scent of the product when a sticker on the exterior is scratched.
The applicants recognized in their filing that there’s an existing patent application for scratch-and-sniff stickers that are meant to identify the flavor of coffee, but argued their idea is distinct because the other application produced the scent of coffee after it’s brewed whereas this sticker would smell like cannabis in its unsmoked form.
“A major hurdle to the purchase of Cannabis is the secure packaging laws of various states,” the application states. “Packaging can often prevent a purchaser from observing certain characteristics of the Cannabis, such as its scent.”
In a summary of the proposal, the applicants said the “general purpose of the present invention is to provide a Cannabis package and method of selection that includes all the advantages of the secure packaging, and overcomes the drawbacks inherent therein.”
Another advantage of the proposed packaging is to help patients identify medicinal properties of different marijuana varieties, or assess quality, without having to open the product, the applicants, Random Vaughn and Jonathan Tanzer of Olympia, Washington, argued. They said that scent is is important in “selecting Cannabis for medical reasons such as seizures, headaches, or insomnia.”
The application lists two iterations of the concept. The main one would involve a sticker that would be infused with the scent of cannabis. Terpenes, which are non-intoxicating compounds in the plant that give cannabis its smell and taste, would be used to produce the scent.
For the other, the scent wouldn’t correspond with the actual small of the marijuana itself, but instead various flavor notes, which are sometimes used in cannabis marketing to describe the product’s qualities similar to what’s often done with wine. The applicants listed a diverse list of potential smells, including freshly cut grass, bread, vanilla, bacon, fish and chips, a Christmas tree, cinnamon, after shave, shampoo, the seaside, furniture polish and a Sunday roast.