Marijuana Business Legislation Earns More Support in Congress

Published on June 23, 2017, By Tom Angell

Marijuana News Politics

Congressional legislation to protect state-legal marijuana businesses from problems created by federal prohibition is earning more support from lawmakers than ever before.

A MassRoots review of key cannabis business bills introduced in the 115th Congress that began in January shows cosponsorship levels for much of the legislation already exceeding those earned by similar bills during the full two years of the prior 114th Congress, which ran from 2015-2016.

For example, a bill that Congressman Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) introduced in late April to allow banks to work with marijuana businesses without fear of running afoul of federal law has already garnered 47 cosponsors. A similar bill that Perlmutter filed in April of 2015 ended up earning 39 cosponsors by the time the last Congress adjourned.

There’s still roughly a year and a half left in the 115th Congress for the current bill to earn even more support, and new cosponsors are being added consistently. Ten new members signed on in June alone.

As a result of financial institutions’ reluctance to work with the industry due to federal risk, many state-licensed marijuana businesses are forced to operate as cash-only, making them targets for robberies.

In the Senate, a marijuana banking bill from Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) took on 11 cosponsors throughout the entire 114th Congress. His new version has already earned support from nine other senators since being refiled last month.

Legislation to reform federal tax laws that treat cannabis businesses unfairly is also seeing increased momentum in the 115th Congress.

Under an obscure federal provision known as 280E, cannabis providers are not allowed to take business expense deductions that are available to companies in any other industry, which can lead to marijuana businesses paying effective tax rates between 65-75 percent, compared with a usual rate of about 15-30 percent.

A bill to undo that burden, sponsored by Congressman Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) currently has 21 cosponsors. Similar legislation filed in April 2015 by Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) only ended up bringing in 18 cosponsors by the time the 114th Congress ended.

Companion legislation sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) earned four cosponsors during the last Congress. That’s the same number that have already signed onto his new bill.

The increasing levels of support for the banking and tax reform legislation is likely due in large part to stepped up lobbying efforts from cannabis entrepreneurs who are directly impacted by current policies.

The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) , a trade group representing state-legal marijuana businesses, holds annual lobby days on Capitol Hill. The group’s most recent push, last month, involved more than 250 cannabis professionals hailing from 20 states across the country.

Last year’s effort had about 150 participants, and the one in 2015 brought in roughly 70 legal marijuana professionals, according to Taylor West, NCIA’s deputy director.

The increased efforts by cannabis entrepreneurs to show up and tell their stories directly to lawmakers in Washington, D.C. seems to be making a difference in building support for legislation that affects them, according to the rising cosponsorship numbers on the bills.

“The more Congress gets to know the real, responsible entrepreneurs of the cannabis industry, the more support there is for them to be treated fairly and for state laws to be respected,” West told MassRoots. “Our members embrace their roles as both businesspeople and advocates, and we’ve seen a real spike in energy and excitement around that advocacy work this year. It’s great to see it paying off.”

This post was originally published on June 23, 2017, it was updated on June 24, 2017.

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