Medical marijuana: Jared Polis stars in National Cannabis Industry Association event (PHOTOS)

An event last night illustrates the growing power of the medical marijuana biz not just in Colorado, but nationwide. The stars of the show were Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, a new, Washington, D.C.-based lobbying organization, and Congressman Jared Polis, joined by politicos aplenty, as you'll see in our accompanying photo gallery. But Smith says the night was about more than simply rubbing elbows.

The NCIA "just rolled out in December," says Smith, speaking in advance of the shindig, staged at a home in Denver's Highland neighborhood. "Our board of directors is comprised of dispensary owners, test facilities, publications that deal with cannabis, manufacturers of cannabis-related accessories and others. It's a diverse group of business leaders. Our goal is to advocate for the interests of the legal cannabis industry in Washington, as well as to provide services for members and create industry-wide standards -- best practices ranging from quality control to packaging to financial record-keeping."

Among the issues atop NCIA's agenda is "the tax code," Smith notes. "We're working to ensure that medical marijuana businesses can deduct their expenses just like any other legal business. Right now, unfortunately, the IRS is doing some major audits at a lot of facilities, and we're working to equalize the tax codes for medical marijuana, as well as to ensure there's equal access to banking for dispensaries and other businesses. There have been ongoing problems with dispensaries not able to take out loans or even make deposits because of the perception that what they're doing is a violation of federal laws, and banks don't have the confidence to do business with dispensaries. So we're working with Congressman Polis to find either an administrative or legislative fix to that problem."

Smith identifies Polis as among the legislators most attuned to the issues of the medical marijuana community, along with the likes of California congressmen Dana Rohrabacher and Pete Stark. Their support is important for the future of the industry, Smith feels.

"The administration has essentially taken a position that if a business is in compliance with state law, the Department of Justice won't take enforcement action," he points out. "So we want to extend that policy into other areas of the federal code, like the tax code and issues involving the Department of Treasury that address the banking situation. Ultimately, we need to ensure that this is the law of the land, not just the policy of this particular president. The federal government needs to back off and not tell states what to do in setting their own medical marijuana policies."

Beyond medical marijuana, the NCIA seeks "overall legalization for sales and possession of cannabis for adults," Smith confirms. "We want to expand this industry and put the black market out of business, so that we can see sale to adults over 21 just as we do with alcohol, which is a far more dangerous drug than cannabis."

In this context, the NCIA sees Colorado as a nationwide key -- which is one reason why Smith journeyed to our fair state to attend the event.

"Colorado is at the forefront of this emerging industry," he maintains. "We're seeing medical cannabis businesses flourishing throughout the state, under state licensing, and that's translating into tax dollars and good sustainable jobs. It's definitely taken root here, and I'm hopeful that the state could soon make full adult sales legal, and regulate them throughout the state. And I certainly think what we're doing at the federal level is very relevant to business owners here in Colorado and the public at large."

Hence the turnout at last night's invitation-only soiree, at which mayoral candidates James Mejia and Doug Linkhart, as well as state representative Crisanta Duran, noshed alongside plenty of high-profile MMJ business owners and activists. Page through below to see more images courtesy of photographer Kim Sidwell.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Butane hash has hidden dangers, says edibles maker arguing against controversial solvent."

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