The cannabis industry keeps getting pummeled. It’s not federally legal, so banks don’t want to offer business banking services. It’s a new industry, so lawmakers in states where it is legal have generally overregulated it. On the flip side, it’s taxed to high heaven, and the feds have been the recipients of those tax dollars. And now, in the era of COVID-19, the marijuana industry (from producers to ancillary businesses) have received the latest blow — being mostly shut out from any coronavirus-related economic stimulus packages.
On the horizon
If marijuana lobbyists have their way, that will change. The new push is for marijuana-related companies to receive relief in future business and economic recovery packages. These recent efforts come after what many see as a record year involving federal marijuana lobbying, most of it focused on the SAFE Banking Act. According to data published on OpenSecrets.org, in 2019, the top dozen or so industry groups and companies spent almost $5.5 million on lobbying, a substantial increase from the $3 million spent in 2018.
Spending significant sums on lobbying efforts was the name of the game in 2019. The top seven groups doubled — if not tripled — the amount allocated to federal marijuana lobbying.
The most significant jump in spending was courtesy of the Cannabis Trade Federation, which went from $170,000 in 2018 to a whopping $1.36 million in 2019. Curaleaf went from spending $160,000 in 2018 to an impressive $890,000 in 2019. The National Cannabis Roundtable went from zero dollars spent in 2018 to $695,000 in 2019. Suterra spent $330,000 more in 2019 than in 2018, and Tweed increased its spending by $170,000 in 2019.
Interestingly enough, the National Cannabis Industry Association only bumped their lobbying spending by $15,000 in 2019. The outlier was the Marijuana Policy Project, which spent less in 2019 than it did in 2018 — $243,750 in 2019 compared to $300,000 in 2018.
The current COVID-19 climate means that industry officials need to shift gears with a different approach to lobbying. Industry groups have asked state governors and treasurers to advocate for cannabis companies. Phone calls, email and Zoom meetings have replaced handshakes and in-person gatherings. The pressure to convince lawmakers to supply aid to state-legal marijuana businesses already burdened with high taxes and minimal banking access is a huge issue now, with a push for equal treatment during these stressful economic times.
What’s happening now
According to Marijuana Business Daily, the industry was circling the wagons as early as March 20, when the COVID-19 situation got real, quick. Several industry groups, including the Cannabis Trade Federation, the NCIA, National Cannabis Roundtable, and Minority Cannabis Industry Association, wrote to congressional leaders. They requested that state-legal marijuana businesses be eligible for the Small Business Association (SBA) emergency loans offered to other small businesses.
And, more recently, on April 17, the Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chairs, along with over two dozen lawmakers, asked House leadership to include state-legal cannabis companies in future COVID-19 relief.
Marijuana lobbyists will keep pushing for support for the cannabis industry via the next coronavirus stimulus package. Lobbyists and industry advocates are busy now, urging Congress to include state-legal marijuana businesses as participants of future pandemic-related stimulus and recovery programs. Democrats (primarily) are looking at pushing for inclusion in a future broad relief package.