The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) announced last week their newest addition to the Cannabis Business Summit: former Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole as the keynote speaker. Cole will be joining Aaron Smith, executive director of NCIA, for a fireside chat where they will take a look at his legacy in the cannabis industry as author of the Cole Memo. They will also discuss his predictions for the future of federal cannabis policy under the Justice Department.
As author of the Cole Memo, James Cole was an instrumental figure in the fight for legal cannabis in the United States. The Cole Memo was a policy directive issued in 2013 that instructed U.S. attorneys general in states that have legalized cannabis to use their resources in prosecuting Controlled Substances Act offenses only if they violated specific federal enforcement priorities. The Obama-era policy directive essentially served to protect state-legal medical cannabis businesses from federal raids and prosecution as long as they were abiding by the state’s regulations.
At the Cannabis Business Summit, James Cole will share insights on the future of the Justice Department’s policy towards cannabis. “The Justice Department holds a huge number of cards when it comes to the future of our industry, but its inner workings and internal debates on cannabis policy aren’t well understood,” says Smith. “That’s what makes this keynote with Jim Cole so exciting and valuable for anyone trying to predict what comes next for the industry.”
The Justice Department rescinding the Cole Memo, the Omnibus bill including Leahy Amendment protections, a host of potential bills for federal cannabis policy change: a lot has been happening in Washington D.C. recently with respect to cannabis business. With the National Cannabis Industry Association’s (NCIA) Cannabis Business Summit in San Jose fast approaching, as well as the 8th Annual Cannabis Industry Lobby Days, we thought it would be a good time to hear what NCIA has been up to recently.
We sat down with Aaron Smith, co-founder and executive director of NCIA, to learn what the organization is working on right now and how we might be able to make some real federal policy changes for cannabis.
CannabisIndustryJournal:With the Department of Justice rescinding the Cole Memo, working as a group to tackle federal policy reform is now more important than ever. Can you give us a 30,000-foot view of what NCIA is doing right now to help us work together as a group and affect policy change?
Aaron Smith: So our team in D.C. consists of three full-time staff members as well as lobbying consultants, who have been really focused on the appropriations process, which is the way we’ve been able to affect change in such a dysfunctional congress by affecting the budget and restricting law enforcement activities. The medical marijuana protections, formerly known as the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment, [and now known as the Leahy Amendment] prevent the Department of Justice from using funds to prosecute state-legal medical marijuana businesses and patients. Going into the fiscal year, thankfully after a lot of hard work, we were able to include protections for medical marijuana, which just happened last week. Now we are really focused on the next year’s fiscal budget, working to hopefully expand those protections to cover all state-legal marijuana activity so the Department of Justice cannot go after all state-legal cannabis businesses, including those businesses in the recreational cannabis industry, which is certainly one of our priorities right now. As Congress starts to transition into fiscal year 2019 appropriations, the D.C. team is working with Capitol Hill staff and other cannabis groups in D.C. to ensure an organized, uniformed strategy through the appropriations process.
CIJ: What are some other priorities for NCIA in the House and Senate right now? What is NCIA focusing its resources on?
Smith: Another big issue for us is the 280E section of tax code, which prevents legal cannabis businesses from deducting normal business expenses. A lot of these businesses face upwards of a 70 percent effective tax rate. Working with our champions in Congress, we are working on reforms to 280E so we can make normal deductions and be treated fairly, just like any other legal business. The Small Business Tax Equity Act of 2017 addresses this issue and has bipartisan support in the House and the Senate right now, and we are working to build more support for that. This bill currently has 43 cosponsors in the House.
The other big issue for us right now is banking reform, which is a very high priority for NCIA as it affects most of our members. The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act of 2017 provides a “safe harbor” and additional protections for depository institutions who provide “financial product or service” to a covered business. This bill currently has 89 cosponsors in the House. NCIA’s D.C. team and lobbying consultants continue to push for cosponsors and support on these important bills.
CIJ: I saw that the Omnibus spending package includes Leahy Amendment protections for cannabis businesses through September. Would you consider that a win in your book? How are you working to maybe extend those protections?
Smith: It was a big win for us. It doesn’t always seem like it because it is really just maintaining the status quo, but we are up against an Attorney General lobbying congress to strip those protections and the house didn’t allow us to vote on it. But by including the Leahy Amendment in the budget we are not only protecting medical marijuana patients and businesses, but we sent a clear signal to Congress that the intention is not to go backwards. We have been playing some defense recently given the current administration’s policies. But we are working with our allies in congress to negotiate those protections for recreational businesses as well. Negotiations for that are just getting started now.
The fiscal year ends September 30th so the protections are in place for now, but Congress needs to pass another budget for the next fiscal year with those protections included. It’s hard to say when the vote will be, because they haven’t been passing budgets in a timely manner, but usually it’s in May or June, right around our Lobby Days. This is what we are focused on now, getting as many of these cannabis businesses and NCIA members out there to really show Congress what the legal industry looks like.
CIJ: NCIA is hosting the 8th Annual Cannabis Industry Lobby Days a little more than a month from now; do you have any goals for that event? Is there anything in particular you hope to accomplish there? How can cannabis businesses get involved?
Smith: The primary purpose of Lobby Days is to show members of Congress and their staff (many of whom have never had exposure to cannabis businesses) what a responsible industry really looks like. And it lets business owners come tell Congress how current policies and laws are affecting their business. It is great for the cause and helps change minds in DC.
Last year, we came out of Lobby Days with several new co-sponsors of cannabis legislation and we hope to get that again this year. It is a great opportunity to connect and network as well; some of the top people in the industry will be there.
Cannabis Business Summit & Expo was the winner of Trade Show Executive’s Fastest 50 Award in 2016, honoring the fastest-growing trade shows held in the U.S., and the winner of The Denver Post’s The Cannabist Golden Pineapple Award in 2016 for Best Business Event.
The annual summit, hosted by the cannabis industry’s only national trade association, returns to the Bay Area, the epicenter of the cannabis movement, to bring together more than 6,000 of the industry’s best and brightest minds.
Serious, like-minded entrepreneurs will convene for three days to learn how to grow their businesses and to achieve new levels of success in five all-encompassing educational tracks.
On Monday, the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) sent an email announcing their Cannabis Industry Fire Relief Fundraiser in Santa Rosa, CA on November 6th. Co-hosted by the California Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA), the fundraiser will take place 6:30-9:00 p.m. at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek (170 Railroad St, Santa Rosa, CA 95401). All proceeds from the event will go to the Redwood Credit Union’s North Bay Fire Relief Fund.
According to the announcement email sent on Monday, the North Bay Fire Relief Fund, established in partnership with California State Senator Mike McGuire and The Press Democrat, provides financial support for relief efforts to displaced victims of the fires. Representatives of the fund will also be on hand at the event to take cash donations directly.
The fundraiser will have sponsorship opportunities and host committee sponsoring for companies looking to participate. All of the money raised from sponsorships will be donated to the same relief fund.
According to Lindsay Robinson, executive director of CCIA, this is an opportunity for the cannabis industry to help the community rebuild. “The devastation caused by the Northern California wildfires are unmeasurable, yet the sense of community and humanity displayed in this tragedy reminds all of us of our commonalities and not our differences,” says Robinson. “I’m hopeful this event will raise much needed funds to help our friends and neighbors rebuild. The cannabis industry is here to help.”
When we reported on the wildfires impacting communities and cannabis businesses, we provided a link to a fundraising campaign specifically designed to help victims in the cannabis community. Citing federal laws prohibiting dealing with controlled substances, the payment processor of that campaign, WePay, refused to actually give the $13,000 raised to the victims. This is just one reason why this NCIA & CCIA fundraiser is so important. This gives those in the cannabis industry who want to help an effective route to do so, knowing their money will immediately go to help the victims.
Hezekiah Allen, a confirmed speaker at the November 6th fundraiser and executive director of the California Growers Association told reporters last week they are hopeful that the $13,000 will actually be given to the victims, but are unsure if that’ll be the case. “We’ve got folks who have needs who we would like to start like to start helping,” says Allen. “We’re still hopeful that they’ll process those payments. We’re waiting with fingers crossed.”
For tickets, sponsorship opportunities and more information please go online and register for the event or make a donation here.
This week, the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) hosted their annual Cannabis Business Summit in Oakland, California amid some alarming news in Washington. On Monday, a letter written by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions back in early May made its way into the news, where he writes to Congress asking permission to prosecute medical cannabis businesses. The following day, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein spoke to the Congress Appropriations committee, saying that, “From a legal and scientific perspective, marijuana is an unlawful drug- it’s properly scheduled under Schedule 1.”
Those two statements identify the crystal-clear anti-cannabis stance of the two most senior-level officials at the Justice Department, a position that should alarm cannabis legalization advocates.
The former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, a prominent legalization advocate, gave a press conference at the NCIA event, where he gave reporters his thoughts on cannabis and drug legalization, the Trump administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. To be blunt, he called Sessions crazy and Trump destructive and ignorant.
“I don’t know what happened to this administration,” Fox told a room of reporters. “A large majority of US states have already approved the use of medical cannabis, which I think is a great thing,” says Fox. “The state of California by itself produces more marijuana than what we do in Mexico. There is a conflict between the frameworks of law… there is no consistency in public policy.” To be clear, the former Mexican president advocates legalizing all drugs, attributing the violence in Mexico to the failed War on Drugs. “I don’t think prohibition has worked and we [Mexico] have paid a huge price for that.”
Former Mexican president Fox’s focus on international politics during that press conference sheds some much-needed light on the violence and other externalities linked to organized crime and the black market drug trade. “We are going to stand firm against what is going on- it is not only the fate of the United States, it is the fate of the whole world,” says Fox. “It is a real shame for this nation in front of the world- we are all pissed off out there hearing this crazy tweeting and crazy public policies that has nothing to do with the soul of this nation… No nation can isolate [themselves] behind a wall and still succeed.”
With the 2017 Cannabis Business Summit just around the corner, we sat down with Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), to hear about their lobbying efforts and what they’ll discuss in the keynote panel discussion on Taxes, 280E and the Path to Federal Reform. Henry Wykowski, Esq., attorney, Steve DeAngelo, founder of Harborside Health Center and Michael Correia, director of Government Relations for NCIA will join her on that panel discussion.
According to West, the 280E tax code issue has an enormous impact on the industry. This tax code essentially means that businesses cannot make deductions for normal business operations from the sale of schedule I narcotics. Because cannabis is still listed as schedule I, businesses touching the plant often pay a majority of their profits to federal taxes. “When they are handing over 80% of their profit to the federal government, which is a lot of money that isn’t being pumped into the local economy, that is a big problem,” says West. “We want to highlight how 280E isn’t just harmful to businesses, but also harmful to the local economies and states that have businesses dealing with cannabis in them.” As the primary organization lobbying on behalf of the cannabis industry in Washington D.C., they have three full-time staff as well as a contracted lobbying firm working there. “We are the voice on Capitol Hill for the businesses of the cannabis industry,” says West. “We primarily focus on a couple of core issues, and one of them is 280E tax reform since that is such a significant issue for our members touching the plant.”
Another important issue they have been lobbying on is banking access. According to West, banks and credit unions are regulated on the federal level, and as a result, are largely still reluctant to serve cannabis businesses. “The inconsistency between federal and state law means they are concerned their federal regulators will flag them for working with cannabis businesses,” says West. “It is very difficult to operate without a bank account- this creates a lot of transparency, logistical and safety issues. We are working with lawmakers to try and make a change in the law that would make it safe for banks to serve state-legal cannabis businesses.” NCIA’s lobbying efforts have long engaged a few core allies on Capitol Hill, including the representatives that formed the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. “They have been champions of broader reform issues around cannabis,” says West. “But we are also starting to see new faces, new members of congress getting interested in these issues, beyond the traditional champions.” A lot of NCIA’s recent lobbying efforts have focused on recruiting members of Congress for those issues.
One example of their success came by teaming up with Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Republican Congressman from Florida serving on the House committee overseeing tax issues. “He hasn’t previously been involved with cannabis legislation, but because Florida moved forward with the medical program, he got more interested in the issue and we helped educate him about the problem with 280E,” says West. “Having a republican that sits on the committee dealing with these issues is a huge step forward as we build the case for reform in D.C.” A lot of these efforts will be discussed in greater detail at the upcoming Cannabis Business Summit June 12-14. “We want to talk about the work we are doing just now in Washington D.C.; we have been doing a significant amount of work helping to draft legislation that would fix the 280E issue,” says West. “We will talk about those efforts as well as what businesses are currently doing to deal with the issue of 280E.” For readers interested in getting tickets, seeing the agenda and learning more about NCIA’s lobbying efforts, click here.
In November 2016, residents in Denver, Colorado voted to pass Initiative 300, allowing businesses to seek social marijuana use permits if neighborhood or business groups also agreed and signed off. In the very near future, the process for how cannabis consumers purchase and consume cannabis will no longer be restricted to only going inside a dispensary to make your purchase and returning to a private residence to consume. Instead, it may be as simple as visiting a drive-thru and then going to a cannabis bar or social club to enjoy.
Cities such as San Francisco have had on-site consumption laws in place for some time, with notable locations including sparc, a well-known dispensary with two locations in the city, and the recently announced Power Plant Fitness, a gym slated to open in late 2017 that will allow members to consume cannabis while working out.
Social consumption of cannabis is not a new topic of discussion—just look at Amsterdam’s cannabis coffee clubs—but it is undoubtedly a legalization trend that will continue to be at the forefront as more states pass legalization or convert to adult-use markets. There remains one reoccurring theme, however: a lack of clarity on how these laws will be structured and how social consumption regulation will be put in place.
In Colorado’s state legislature, there was bipartisan agreement that the state needed to allow for venues to let patrons consume cannabis in order to deter residents and tourists alike from consuming in public places such as sidewalks and parks. A Republican-sponsored measure proposed in the state legislature would have allowed for the regulation of cannabis clubs in a similar format to how cigar bars are managed, but that legislation was put on hold for rewrite.
Within the state, there also exists a heated debate over whether or not the creation of social cannabis clubs would instigate federal intervention by the new administration, especially in light of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ comments in opposition of the adult-use cannabis industry.
One thing is clear: since Denver’s passing of the social use ballot measure in November, there have been numerous halting attempts to put a law in place and the current law is vague. There remains much work to be done before Initiative 300 may be enacted.
For those interested in learning more or joining the discussion, the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) will be hosting a panel titled “For Here or To Go? Evolving Regulations on Social Consumption of Cannabis” at its 4th annual Cannabis Business Summit & Expo in Oakland, June 12-14. The panel will be led by Sam Tracy of 4Front Ventures, who supports the company’s business development and communication efforts.
You can learn more about the Summit and see the full conference agenda on the Cannabis Business Summit & Expo website. In celebration of 4/20, NCIA has extended the early bird pricing deadline for conference registration from April 21 to April 24 to allow for busy cannabis business owners and operators to take advantage of the savings.
Cannabis Industry Journal readers may use discount code CIJ15 to save 15% on registration.
Members of Congress last week announced the formation of a ‘Congressional Cannabis Caucus’ in order to organize and affect cannabis policy at the federal level. Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Jared Polis (D-CO) and Don Young (R-AK) announced the creation of the caucus on February 16th. Cannabis advocacy and drug policy groups were quick to commend the formation of the organization.
In a joint statement issued on Friday, the National Cannabis Industry Association, the Marijuana Policy Project, the Drug Policy Alliance, NORML, Americans for Safe Access, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, and Clergy for a New Drug Policy expressed commendation and excitement for the new group. “We commend Representatives Blumenauer, Rohrabacher, Polis, and Young for their leadership on the issue of cannabis policy,” reads the statement. “The establishment of a Cannabis Caucus will allow members from both parties, who represent diverse constituencies from around the country, to join together for the purpose of advancing sensible cannabis policy reform. It will also facilitate efforts to ease the tension between federal prohibition laws and state laws that regulate cannabis for medical and adult use.”
The members of Congress that formed the caucus all represent constituents in states where cannabis is legal for medical and adult use. “The formation of this caucus is a testament to how far our country has come on the issue of cannabis policy,” says the joint statement by the drug policy reform groups. “We look forward to working with caucus members to translate this growing public sentiment into sound public policy.” According to their statement, 44 states so far have adopted laws effecting cannabis prohibition on the state level, representing 95% of the U.S. House of Representatives and 88% of the Senate.
Representatives Blumenauer and Rohrabacher have been prominent cannabis policy reform advocates in the past. Blumenauer supported the bill to legalize adult use cannabis in Oregon back in 2014 and Rohrabacher introduced the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment to Congress, which prohibits the Justice Department from spending money on interfering with state medical cannabis laws.
According to an article on Roll Call, Blumenauer says the caucus will focus on more medical research and the tax and banking regulations hurting cannabis businesses.
The bill would exempt states from the federal prohibition of cannabis via a waiver program. The Attorney General could grant those waivers to states that operate a robust regulatory framework and oversight of the cannabis marketplace. It also has measures in place to help prevent diversion of cannabis into the black market, protecting consumer safety and public health, eliminating criminal enterprise involvement and more.
Cody Stiffler, vice president of Government Affairs at BioTrackTHC, believes this bill could be a panacea for many ailments facing the cannabis market. “They [Congress] plan to give the U.S. Attorney General powers to offer waivers to state governments, exempting that state from federal law regarding cannabis, allowing banks and other institutions to take part in the industry without fear of federal backlash under the Controlled Substances Act,” says Stiffler. Perhaps the most significant effect this bill could have on the cannabis industry is knocking down the burden of the 280E tax code on cannabis businesses primarily because it would exempt states from The Controlled Substances Act. Click here to read the full guest post on the NCIA blog.
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