by Lloyd Covens, Editor, West420 NewsWeekly
This is the time. This is the place. Washington for NCIA Lobby Days. Even as Rep. Earl Blumenauer(D-OR) told the NCIA Policy Symposium April 28, “don’t talk about legalization—talk about how you are trying to build a business, and how the many challenges in banking, taxation” and government paperwork are making it difficult. “We are ordinary, everyday business people” said NCIA’s executive director Aaron Smith. Speaking of the 100-plus staff and Congressional offices to be seen, Smith added “Yes, they are not experts on our issues—it’s up to us to put a face on our industry.” It was the pre-event at the Washington “20F” meeting space —near Union Station— that brought together 180 new and old industry members, —and the game plan was to fan out and tell the industry’s story without making it too complex or demanding for staffers in the Senate and House.
“It is better to get a member to say, ‘I won’t vote against you’, then only to have them become an outright supporter” said the head of Americans for Tax Reform Grover Norquist. Drug Policy Alliance’s Bill Piper, who has worked on drug normalization p0licies for 15 years, predicted an “all-out victory” for cannabis reform within 3 to 5 years.
On Thu., April 30th, veteran supporters were expecting a vote on attaching language to military funding bill to prohibit any federal funds being used to interfere with doctor discussions with veterans for MMJ options to help PTSD and other stress/pain related ailments. The anticipated amendment would effectively block any attempt by VA administrators from jeopardizing other veterans benefits for care and medical access if they also seek relief through cannabis therapy. Currently, veterans face the prospect of losing their health benefits for beginning MMJ treatments even if they live in an accessible MMJ legal state.
DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton told the April 28 symposium that even as the District voted for legalization last November, some members of Congress continue to do whatever they can to keep implementation from occurring, especially in allowing local offices to set retail rules. She noted “on cannabis reform we’re seeing more bi-partisanship than you are seeing on almost anything else”, but she pointed out Maryland Rep. Andy Harris continues to try to block full reform in the District. Appearing at the symposium Noah Marine, legislative director for bill sponsor Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), talked of the benefit for giving banks a “safe haven”. Panel member Tom Fleming said the sheer paperwork facing bankers (like constant filings for ‘suspicious activity’ reports) makes the cost of compliance for cannabis business thousands of dollars per month, versus a normal account, not facing the constant federal scrutiny. NCIA Steve Fox added that getting pressure on bank regulators for opening up accounts and financial services should also be promoted as a safety issue for dispensaries. But compared to the last years’ NCIA Lobby Days—this year the industry has more than ten separate pieces of legislation pending (two in the Senate) to deal with virtually every problem facing the medical, hemp and recreational space. The measure is co-sponsored in the Senate by the ranking member of the budget committee, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon. At a April 29th press conference at the Capitol, House members Denny Heck, Jared Polis and Dana Rohrabacher joined Perlmutter and Blumenauer in calling for “fairness for businesses” (support for the Blumenauer “Small Business Tax Equity Act) and “respect for state laws.” Asset forfeiture reform is another needed area for the industry to support to dis-incentivize cops.
Other speakers at the conference recapped developments in Nevada, California, Oregon, DC and Washington. On the 280E front, one important U.S. IRS Tax Court appeal begins June 1st for the Colorado Feinberg dispensary, according to CPA and industry expert Jim Marty of BridgeWest. Brookings Institute John Hudak, author of last years’ in-depth study of Colorado implementation of legal adult use, told a panel he favors the MMJ approach which Connecticut is taking to implement its policies with a process driven by the healthcare industry, and oversee by the same regulators who control pharmaceuticals in the state. Sarah Trumble of ThirdWay messaging experts told the symposium that the “Marijuana Middle”(soft on support) tended to be aged 50-plus women who are less moved by social justice issues like slowing incarceration for MJ offenses. “When they think of the war on drugs, they are still thinking of the government protecting their kids from heroin” said Trumble, and Hudak agreed, even citing “the racist voter” for still thinking of pot reform as potentially reducing incarceration for minority men.