Advocacy for cannabis at the national level is more important now than ever before, said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, as he opened NCIA's Seed to Sale Show on January 31.
NCIA ensures that cannabis-industry professionals have a voice and a seat at the table in Washington D.C., Smith noted as he explained not only how NCIA represents the cannabis industry in D.C., but how the organization plans to protect cannabis at the national level — and how the industry in Colorado can help.
"Now, not only are we able to get into the meetings and be taken seriously, even by those who might oppose our industry, [but] we're at least taken seriously as a legitimate business sector in this country — and that's because of what you have done as an industry to completely reframe and adopt the narrative around cannabis," Smith told the crowd. "It's no longer a culture-war issue. It's no longer about stoners hanging out in their basements and the kind of negative stereotypes that have been out there for decades. This is about a tremendous asset to our economy, a multibillion-dollar industry that has created tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in tax revenue, and that's being seen and recognized at all levels of power in Washington, D.C., because of you."
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As we enter into a congressional session where Republicans control the House and Senate, not to mention Trump's White House, Smith said that NCIA's number-one national priority is ensuring that the Cole Memo stays in place at the Department of Justice.
"This industry hinges on a piece of paper that was issued by the last administration's Department of Justice outlining the priorities for federal law enforcement against state legal marijuana operators — very simple guidelines that we all agree are the right path forward for how the federal government should be treating state-licensed operators. But these guidelines are not in the statutes, so this is literally a memo that could be ripped up," Smith warned. "I'm hopeful that with your help and the work we're doing to shine a light on the responsible businesses that make up our industry...that the Cole Memo will stay in place under a presumably Jeff Sessions-led Department of Justice."
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During this session, NCIA will be working primarily on reforming 280e, the tax code that prohibits marijuana businesses from taking ordinary business deductions afforded to other industries and working to fix banking regulations.
"We're more than doubling our lobbying effort on Capitol Hill in several ways to advance 280e reform, and think we have a real good shot at it this year," Smith said.
To aid in that effort, NCIA is welcoming industry leaders to join the group in Washington in May.
"I would like to offer you the opportunity to come out to D.C. and lobby alongside our staff and other members of our cannabis-industry lobby days, coming up on May 16 and 17," Smith added. "This is an opportunity for you to meet with your members of Congress and other key members on the Hill and share your story and put a face on this industry. It's one thing for us to talk about cannabis businesses as your representative; it's a whole different thing when they have the opportunity to see the faces and the people who make up this industry and recognize that we are responsible professionals who are simply just asking to be treated as such under federal law."