Marijuana industry boosts DC lobbying team

Marijuana industry boosts DC lobbying team
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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,”

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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 GardnerCory Scott GardnerGeorge Conway group drops ad seeking to remind GOP senators of their 'sworn oaths' ahead of impeachment trial Mitch McConnell may win the impeachment and lose the Senate Republicans will pay on Election Day for politicizing Trump's impeachment MORE (R-Colo.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenNYT editorial board endorses Warren, Klobuchar for Democratic nomination for president Trump rails against impeachment in speech to Texas farmers Biden breaks away from 2020 pack in South Carolina MORE (D-Mass.) and Reps. David JoyceDavid Patrick JoyceKoch campaign touts bipartisan group behind ag labor immigration bill Keeping your national parks accessible even during a government shutdown Marijuana industry donations to lawmakers surge in 2019: analysis MORE (R-Ohio) and Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerLobbying world Hillicon Valley: Progressives oppose funding bill over surveillance authority | Senators call for 5G security coordinator | Facebook gets questions over location tracking | Louisiana hit by ransomware attack Progressives oppose spending stopgap measure over surveillance authority extension MORE (D-Ore.).

The bill was intended to counter the Trump administration's tougher stance on marijuana use. Former Trump Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsICE subpoenas Denver law enforcement: report Bottom Line DOJ inquiry tied to Clinton, touted by Trump winds down with no tangible results: report MORE 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 BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerA time for war, a time for peace — and always a time to defend America Esper's chief of staff to depart at end of January Soleimani killing deepens distrust between Trump, Democrats MORE (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.