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Marijuana industry boosts DC lobbying team

The marijuana industry is boasting its largest lobbying team in Washington ever, as it gears up to push through major legislation in 2019.

The Cannabis Trade Federation (CTF), a nonprofit to educate and advocate for cannabis in public policy, has hired 15 lobbyists to push the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, the group first told The Hill.

The bill would protect state laws regulating marijuana use from the federal government.  

“The STATES Act, it’s a bipartisan bill that the president has said he will sign into law," CTF CEO Neal Levine told The Hill. "So it’s the one piece of legislation from our intel that we think we have a legitimate chance to pass into law that would fundamentally address all of the major issues that the cannabis industry faces today,”

Specifically, the bill would amend the Controlled Substances Act so any business operating in compliance with state cannabis laws is not in violation of the law.

Levine said that among the major issues facing legitimate cannabis businesses are tax penalties and “the Department of Justice kicking in our doors.”

The STATES act was co-authored in the last Congress by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Reps. David Joyce (R-Ohio) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.).

The bill was intended to counter the Trump administration's tougher stance on marijuana use. Former Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions moved to crack down on state efforts to allow recreational use of marijuana.

The ramped-up lobbying team comes at a critical moment for the marijuana lobby.

Recreational marijuana is legal in 10 states and the District of Columbia, with medical marijuana legal in 33.

Beyond the STATES act, CTF wants their lobbying effort to build out the association so it can be a player on the federal level.

“This is all part of the cannabis industry growing up, coming into the mainstream, acting like every other industry that’s out there. This is just the natural part of our evolution,” Levine said.

Perhaps the most famous D.C. marijuana advocate is former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who sits on the board of the cannabis corporation, Acreage Holdings. He penned an op-ed in November to urge Washington to respect states’ rights to regulate cannabis ahead of four states voting in the midterms on measures to relax marijuana restrictions.  

Levine has been working on this issue since 2002 when he was active with state lobbying efforts and ballot initiatives.

“The cannabis industry lives in dog years so I’m a bit of a long tooth,” he said.

CTF launched in the summer of 2018 and has a board made up of 20 representatives from a diverse set of companies.

“It’s no secret that the people are often ahead of the politicians on a lot of the issues that are deemed controversial,” Levine said. “When it comes to cannabis, prohibition caused way more societal harm than cannabis has itself.”

The new CTF team will include Phil Anderson, Ryan Berger and Susan Nelson from Navigators Global; Melissa Kuipers Blake, Nadeam Elshami, Drew Littman, William Moschella and Brian Wild from Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck; Darin Gardner, James Jochum and Andrew Shore from Jochum, Shore & Trossevin; Tim Lynch, Robert Raben and Eduardo Soto from the Raben Group; and Darrel Thompson from the GROUP.


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