Cannabis Goes To Washington
Cannabis Goes to Washington – Introduction – In August of 2017, a mysterious political action committee formed called the Federalist Freedom Fund. It was a joint fundraising committee between two Republican congressmen, Carlos Curbelo and Mike Coffman, as well as the two major Republican election committees, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senate Committee. Within a month, it raised $187,700. Six months later, it shut down and the money was disbursed four ways.
On its surface, the Fund was a standard PAC meant to support Republican causes, although it had no website or mission statement. Only after looking at the PAC’s donors would its purpose become clearer: Every single one of its donors was a giant in the booming multibillion-dollar cannabis industry. Coffman and Curbelo, who both lost reelection bids in the midterm elections last Tuesday, not only represent the key adult-use and medical cannabis markets of Colorado and Florida, respectively, but they have been rare and vocal cannabis backers in a GOP-dominated Congress.
Today, two in three Americans support legalization, according to an October Gallup survey, the type of overwhelming voter support that has begun to push even the most resistant politicians to embrace the issue.
The Introduction continues at Source: Cannabis Goes to Washington – Introduction here.
Cannabis Goes To Washington Part I – Many Republicans in Congress often assert two core beliefs: states’ rights and free markets. And though the Democrats managed to turn the House blue in the midterms, the only way cannabis legislation will move through a GOP Senate and White House in the near future is on a bipartisan basis. That reality comes as the cannabis debate in Congress is beginning to be reshaped along GOP-friendly lines.
Because cannabis is no longer in the domain of an anti-corporate counterculture, it is becoming a more natural sell. Already, pharmaceutical, tobacco, alcohol, and beverage industries—all hefty spenders in Washington—have begun to formulate plans for cannabis-based products, from Coca-Cola’s trial balloon interest in CBD beverages to the record $4 billion investment by Constellation Brands, the parent company of Corona beer, in one of the largest Canadian cannabis companies.
Where the industry forms alliances in Congress will shape its future, partly because it is so young. Despite the industry’s multibillion-dollar growth and potential, these are early years: The first legal adult-use sales in the US began in 2014.
During the past two years, the cannabis industry has sought to push not just cannabis legalization, but a business-friendly list of goals in Congress, including tax reform. Increasingly, members of the GOP—previously staunchly anti-cannabis, with few exceptions—are supporting those legislative efforts. Even if lawmakers are simply responding to a new political landscape as more states legalize, the pace at which the GOP has begun to display a more receptive attitude on cannabis has been swift.
Cannabis Wire’s review of government data found a ten-fold increase over the last seven years in the number of GOP House and Senate members who have sponsored or cosponsored bills and resolutions related to cannabis: from twenty-three co-sponsors in 2011 and 2012 to 256 from 2017 to the present—the most in any Congress.
Democrats, meanwhile, have hardly been sitting on the sidelines. They have also dramatically increased their participation as co-sponsors during the same period, from 117 to 652, or nearly five-fold.
On the Republican side, to be sure, the cannabis romance remains somewhat tentative. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the nation’s top law enforcer until President Trump forced him out right after the midterm election, has been obstinate when it comes to cannabis. In January, Sessions, a Republican from Alabama, ruffled Democrats and Republicans alike with his anti-cannabis rhetoric and repeal of Obama-era protections against federal meddling in state-legal cannabis activity.
Party leaders have distanced themselves from the national public discussion over legalization, and one Republican in particular became a legislative roadblock: From his perch as chairman of the House Rules Committee, Texas Republican Congressman Pete Sessions frustrated many in the cannabis law reform community by blocking some cannabis-related measures from advancing. The Texas Cannabis Industry Association targeted Sessions for his anti-cannabis views, perhaps contributing to his loss Tuesday to Democrat Colin Allred, who supports medical cannabis. Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, formed in 2017, recently told Cannabis Wire, “Pete Sessions is enemy number one.” House Speaker Paul Ryan, meanwhile, has said and done little on the issue.
Yet these factors effectively hid the churn of action below the surface.
You can read the rest of Source: “Cannabis Wire’s “Cannabis Goes To Washington – Part I” here.
Source: “Cannabis WIre’s “Cannabis Goes To Washington – Part II” – “The Cannabis Industry Learns to Play Politics
– Mike Correia has been lobbying on behalf of the National Cannabis Industry Association, known as NCIA, for the past half decade. The Association formed in 2010 and is the nation’s largest industry advocacy group, with just under 2,000 dues paying members. But the Association might no longer be the most influential industry voice in Congress.
Correia told Cannabis Wire that it wasn’t long ago when he could count on one hand the number of lobbyists working on cannabis.
“I’ll be honest with you, I can’t keep up with some of the lobbyists that are now showing up from individual companies,” Correia said. And with new faces and interests lobbying for cannabis, he said, it can feel like people working on islands. “They represent their clients and they don’t want to be part of the larger network of some of the advocacy groups, and some of the circles that we’re in.”
Correia noted that the industry is still in its “infancy.” Still, money spent on cannabis lobbying overall shows a sharp upswing: In 2011, NCIA and the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), and the Colorado-focused Medical Marijuana Industry Group spent $43,000 on lobbying the House and Senate. Over the next few years, the amount spent on lobbying surged: In 2015, NCIA and MPP spent $540,000. In 2016, they spent $780,000. Over the years, those lobbying dollars went toward a wide range of cannabis-related issues, from veterans’ access to research expansion.
Then, with the establishment of the New Federalism Fund (NFF) in 2017, came a new approach to cannabis in Congress. The powerhouse lobbying group—it could be considered more of a trio, considering the fund is backed primarily by LivWell, Privateer Holdings, & Scotts Miracle-Gro, according to federal disclosures—pumped an unprecedented amount of money primarily toward a single business concern: a repeal of 280E, the part of the tax code that prohibits cannabis businesses from deducting expenses from federal taxes. In 2017, NFF spent $987,000 on lobbying, dwarfing NCIA’s total by $426,000.
So far this year, MPP and NCIA have spent approximately $835,000 on federal lobbying and $114,500 on direct donations to candidates and their PACs, split almost evenly between Republicans and Democrats. (Total spend: $949,500.)
But they were far outspent by major industry players, who put nearly $2 million toward federal lobbying and campaign contributions this year. A majority of that total, $1,551,119, was spent on lobbying by some of the largest cannabis companies in the country, including Canndescent, Weedmaps, Palliatech Inc. (now known as Curaleaf), Surterra Holdings Inc., Trulieve, and, through NFF, Privateer Holdings, Scotts Miracle-Gro, and LivWell.
And at least $313,100 went to candidates and their PACs this election cycle from companies including LivWell, Privateer Holdings, Scotts Miracle-Gro, MedMen, and Wana Brands. Of that amount, Democrats were given $95,000 and $218,100 went to Republicans.
Source:“Cannabis WIre’s “Cannabis Goes To Washington – Part II” – “The Cannabis Industry Learns to Play PoliticsPart II continues here.
Part III – “A Sea Change for Cannabis Politics” begins with – the growing cannabis industry is learning how to throw its weight around in Washington. Industry players are increasingly lobbying and handing out campaign contributions on both sides of the aisle. And perhaps most notably, the industry is making unprecedented alliances with Republicans.
For the politics of cannabis, all this amounts to a sea change. But what does it mean on Capitol Hill in 2019 and beyond? As legislative priorities shift, what might be gained? What could be lost?
First, some history: The cannabis legalization movement has roots in the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), formed in the 70s when Congress was closer to decriminalizing cannabis than it’s ever come since. NORML built significant support in Jimmy Carter’s White House for ending arrests of cannabis consumers. Within months of his taking office, congressional hearings were held to discuss the possibilities, and at one of them, Carter’s drug czar, Peter Bourne, director of the Office of Drug Abuse Policy, said, “We believe that the mechanism for discouragement should not be more damaging to the individual than the drugs themselves.”
But Ronald Reagan ramped up the drug war when he took office, and any national movement in favor of cannabis was off the table. Along with NORML, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP)—both formed in the 90s—shifted strategies and focused their efforts at the state level. They got results. California legalized medical cannabis first, in 1996, followed by more than two dozen states in the decades since. Then, in 2012, adult-use ballot initiatives passed in Colorado and Washington. Those landmark achievements stunned a watching world, as these organizations continued to push other state ballot initiatives that flouted federal prohibition.
Today, thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have medical cannabis programs and ten states and D.C. allow adult use. (These numbers are inclusive of the midterms: Last week, through ballot initiatives, Michigan voters approved adult-use cannabis, and Utah and Missouri voters passed medical cannabis.)
Over the years, the groups pushing for changing cannabis laws built a steady argument rooted in a focus on patients with a medical need; on putting an end to the criminal justice-related harms of prohibition, from arrests that disproportionately affected people of color to the enrichment of violent cartels; on how cannabis is safer than alcohol; and on the proposition that legal sales could bring in tax dollars to be spent on public health, education, and research.
However, these are not the conversations toward the top of the agenda for the new, booming industry as it deploys lobbyists to Capitol Hill. The cannabis industry is trying to win in Washington the same way everyone else does: by using money to appeal to the power players in order to promote its business interests. Meanwhile, an increasing number of those power players happen to be in the GOP.
As a result of these factors, the legislation attracting the most resources and attention prioritizes exempting businesses, not consumers, from prosecution.
Source: Cannabis News Wires – “Cannabis Goes to Washington: Part III – “A Sea Change for Cannabis Politics” – continues here