As the cannabis industry grows, so does the push for full legalization. Adding muscle is the new Cannabis Trade Federation, a group of well-connected lobbyists that represents some of the country's strongest cannabis brands, including LivWell and Dixie Elixirs, in Washington, D.C.
One member of the CTF, Melissa Kuipers Blake, is based in Denver, working for legal and lobbying powerhouse Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. We recently caught up with Kuipers Blake to chat about the 2020 elections, pot's lobbying power and more.
Westword: How long have you represented cannabis companies and organizations? Any clients we've heard of?
Melissa Kuipers Blake: I’ve represented the Cannabis Trade Federation and the earlier version of the organization, the New Federalism Fund, since 2017. The Cannabis Trade Federation is a national organization of marijuana company owners, including LivWell, Native Roots, Dixie Elixirs and Curaleaf. The organization also has boardmembers that do not directly touch the plant, like Scotts Miracle-Gro and Flow Hub.
What made you jump into such a new space?
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The trend lines are clear: Marijuana will continue to be legalized throughout the U.S., and state legalization will put pressure on the federal government to act. The notion of being at the forefront of this new global market, and being able to have a positive impact on behalf of the industry to establish best practices and a responsible regulatory framework was an incredible opportunity, and one I could not pass up.
What cannabis issues will your clients be pushing for this year?
The singular focus of the Cannabis Trade Federation this year is the passage of the States Act. This legislation, introduced in the last Congress by Senator Cory Gardner (Colorado) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), will be introduced again in the coming weeks.
The bill is beautiful in its simplicity. It says if a state has legalized marijuana, the federal government may not enforce against or interfere with businesses in compliance with state law. Furthermore, if a state has not yet legalized marijuana, nothing changes. It’s a perfect solution to the incongruity between state and federal law on this issue, and is in total alignment with the Tenth Amendment.
How has the cannabis industry's lobbying power changed in the past three or four years?
With each passing year, the breadth and scope of the marijuana lobby continues to grow. We have seen a sizable uptick in the last year of large law and lobbying firms in D.C. willing to enter the cannabis space, where they had previously not been willing to do so. Of note, many individuals from other highly regulated products, like alcohol and tobacco, have expressed interest in working with the marijuana industry or joining the movement altogether. It is becoming the next big lobbying presence in American politics.
The 2020 elections are around the corner. How will cannabis factor in?
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I expect to see continued efforts for marijuana legalization at the ballot in 2020. This could be for states that have no legal cannabis to test the waters with medical measures, as well as states with medical laws to make the leap to recreational.
Additionally, cannabis will continue to be an issue that candidates at all levels of government must have an answer for. With over 33 legal states and growing, it will continue to be an issue for voters, and one that elected officials will need to address. And history suggests that marijuana measures at the ballot drive turnout. This will be especially crucial to both parties as they look toward 2020.
I hear you have you some baking efforts that don't involve pot?
Haha! Yes, this baking does not involve pot! I founded Baking for the Troops in 2010 after years of doing baking in my home kitchen for friends and colleagues deployed throughout the world. The core mission of the organization is to provide packages of homemade brownies and cookies to military service members throughout the world, and to give them a sense of home while they are away. To date, Baking for the Troops has reached over 2,000 American military personnel of all branches of service in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond.