Business, Not Social Justice, Remains Lobbying Priority for Large Cannabis Companies

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Acreage. Curaleaf. Surterra (now Parallel). Some of the highest-valued cannabis companies in the world are increasingly lobbying at the federal level in the US. And the legislative change they care about now, above all else, is access to banking.

Prominent multi-state cannabis operators that registered to lobby concentrated their lobbying efforts on the SAFE Banking Act—which passed the U.S. House in a historic vote in September—or on “banking policy and regulation,” according to lobbying disclosures for the first three quarters this year.  

Only one company out of eight—4Front Ventures—lists a social justice-related cannabis bill (in addition to the SAFE Banking Act) in its lobbying disclosures. Another company, Columbia Care, has focused its efforts on “issues related to cannabis research, including the DEA Aug. 12 2016 solicitation of applications to manufacture cannabis for research purposes” over banking. 

4Front ventures is a newcomer to the federal lobbying scene and has not yet reported lobbying expenses. However, the remaining seven companies spent a cumulative amount of $915,000 on their lobbying activities in the third quarter. The biggest spender of all, at $420,000, was Massachusetts-based Curaleaf.

There are several different social justice-focused cannabis legalization bills in Congress, including the Marijuana Justice Act, Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, and the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. And when the SAFE Banking Act reached the House floor, several groups, including the Drug Policy Alliance, criticized legislators who considered a banking bill before broader legalization legislation with a social justice focus.

However, the National Cannabis Industry Association’s media relations director Morgan Fox argues that the SAFE Banking Act itself is an equity provision. “Without banking services and traditional lending, the only people that are really able to access capital are people who have access to deep financial networks and angel investors, which tends to not be present in a lot of marginalized communities,” Fox told Cannabis Wire. Small businesses and people most affected by disproportionate enforcement of drug laws will have a better shot at entering the industry if the SAFE Banking Act is passed, he said. 

(When it comes to industry associations, the National Cannabis Industry Association, along with the Cannabis Trade Federation, are lobbying on a broad range of cannabis legislation in addition to banking, including the Marijuana Justice Act and the MORE Act.) 

Besides the SAFE Banking Act, the next most important piece of legislation, on which half of these multistate companies lobbied or registered to lobby is the STATES Act, which would protect state legal cannabis businesses from federal prosecution. Canopy Growth, Surterra (Parallel), Curaleaf, and Acreage are all lobbying on the bill. (Even Constellation Brands, the alcohol giant that invested $4 billion in Canopy Growth, lobbied on the SAFE Banking Act and the STATES Act this year.) 

4Front Ventures—the only one of these companies lobbying in support of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act—said that the legislation it lobbies on depends upon the impact it will have on cannabis reform and the likelihood of its passage. 

“Proposals to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, such as the MORE Act, are high on the priority list because that’s the gold standard of federal cannabis reform, but the prospects for passing such legislation in both the House and Senate this session are not great,” Mike Liszewski, 4Front’s senior regulatory affairs counsel told Cannabis Wire

However, while a bill like the SAFE Banking Act is “fairly narrow,” it would have a significant impact on the industry and has a reasonable chance of becoming a law, he added.

Fox with the National Cannabis Industry Association agrees. The Association looks at whether  legislation will benefit the industry, if it has a significant amount of support in Congress, and if it pushes forward an “ideal policy” (such as restorative justice) when deciding on where to focus their legislative efforts, Fox said.

Cannabis-related lobbying at the federal level, broadly, has largely been focused on banking, according to lobbying disclosures. As Cannabis Wire previously reported, major banking and insurance associations such as the American Bankers Association and Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers Of America are lobbying on the SAFE Banking Act. Big banks such as Wells Fargo Company and Mastercard have also continued lobbying on the Act into the third quarter. 

The other major issue that the industry is directing its lobbying efforts toward is hemp regulations. The United States Department of Agriculture was due to release its hemp regulations in early fall. As Cannabis Wire previously reported, the Department submitted its final regulations to the White House Office of Management and Budget in June. 

The biggest multi-state cannabis companies and national cannabis associations that are registered to lobby at the federal level in 2019:

(Note: Canopy Growth is included in the list as a multi-state operator because it’s in the process of acquiring Acreage Holdings)

Canopy Growth and its subsidiary, Tweed Inc.

Surterra Holdings/Parallel Brands Inc

Trulieve

Curaleaf 

PharmaCann 

Acreage Holdings 

Columbia Care LLC

4Front Ventures

National Cannabis Industries Association 

National Cannabis Roundtable

Cannabis Trade Federation

Marijuana Policy Project

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