Congressional Cannabis Day Forum Draws the Industry to Capitol Hill

By J.J. McCoy, Senior Managing Editor, New Frontier Data

Coinciding with the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA)’s 9th Annual Cannabis Industry Lobby Days the past week in Washington, D.C., the House Cannabis Caucus and KCSA Strategic Communications sponsored a Congressional Cannabis Day Forum featuring six-panel presentations, plus a director’s showing of the documentary film “Weed the People”.

Held in the U.S. Capitol, the event convened some 300 businesspeople, investors, research experts and legalization advocates with lawmakers and staff to discuss topics including a market overview, hemp and CBD legalization under the 2018 Farm Bill, capital markets and banking, the opioids crisis, social justice, and veterans’ access to medical cannabis.

Throughout three days, NCIA members from across the country met with key politicians, committee staff, and their respective local representatives to share insights and objectives while advocating for federal reforms necessary for legal cannabis markets’ growth, best practices, and maturation toward fullest potential of an industry which added nearly 65,000 new jobs to the U.S. economy as estimated by New Frontier Data’s senior economist, Beau Whitney.

As a recent poll of American voters found a 60% (vs. 33%) majority favoring national legalization of cannabis – with favorability widening to 93% vs. 5% in support of cannabis for medical uses – it is unsurprising that politicians are taking note.

While cannabis is legal for adult use in 10 states and the District of Columbia (DC), and legal for medical use in a total of 33 states plus DC, there are more than 1,100 cannabis-related bills under consideration in 2019 agendas throughout state legislatures and Congress. In the past week, a House subcommittee released a report for a large-scale spending bill containing cannabis-related protections with a call for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to decisively act on long-delayed applications for new federal licenses to grow cannabis for scientific research.

Nevertheless, significant barriers unique to the industry persist in legal businesses’ day-to-day operations. In discussing “Capital Markets and Banking”, panelist Edward Fields of DionyMed rued the lack of available banking services due to federal prohibition of marijuana: “I can’t think of any other business that puts their employees at risk of being carjacked for bags of cash. In cannabis, we’re forced to [do so]. We are creating hundreds of thousands of jobs; why can’t we make them safe? We are moving $250,000 a day in cash, creating issues in security, chain of custody, etc., and [such issues are] unnecessary.”

Last March, the House Financial Services Committee passed the SAFE Banking Act by a 45-15 vote to clear the way for banks to serve cannabis-related businesses without jeopardy of federal law enforcement; a companion bill awaits resolution in the Senate.

During the “Social Justice” panel, participants Jeannette Ward Horton (of NuLeaf Project), Chanda Macias (of Women Grow), and James Watt (Cage-Free Cannabis) were joined by moderator Leah Heise (4Front) in expressing the frustrations of minority and small-business owners in getting to capital, an issue coincidentally detailed in a new Harvard University paper.

In stopping by the event, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ, 7th) expressed how, “if we do this right, the cannabis revolution can be truly transformative of communities that have missed a lot of opportunities to move up our social and economic ladders.” He also shared a personal aside about how, as a Marine veteran having served in Iraq, he keenly realizes how federal prohibition of cannabis has neglected military veterans preferring treatment with medical cannabis over opioids.

The event at the Capitol afforded the NCIA an opportunity to circulate its recent report, “Increasing Equity in the Cannabis Industry: Six Achievable Goals for Policy Makers”, intended to “ensure that those harmed the most by the system of the past have a chance to benefit from the system of the future.”