Cannabis Lobbyists Conduct Reddit ‘AMA,’ Offer Federal Legalization Predictions
Leaders from the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) took to Reddit on Wednesday to answer questions about the marijuana industry.
Participating in an AMA (ask me anything) session with users on the popular news aggregator and discussion platform was NCIA director of government relations Michael Correia, as well as government relations managers Michelle Rutter and Maddy Grant.
Over the span of about three hours, the trio answered a range of questions and discussed the chances of federal legalization, among other topics.
Asked by one Reddit user when cannabis could be legalized at the federal level, Correia predicted it could happen within two years.
“January 2022 across the entire US,” he wrote, adding that it “could take decades” for every state to implement their own regulations.
Another user asked about the odds of federal legalization, and Correia said he was “completely hopeful.”
“The genie has been let out of the bottle and won’t go back,” he wrote, presumably referring to the 11 states that have already legalized cannabis for adult-use. “Legalization will happen in the near future. Will it have some bumps here and there? Yes.”
For her part, Grant said she believes every state will be “fully legalized” sometime this decade.
The path toward federal legalization is fraught with challenges, however. Two bills – the SAFE Banking Act and the MORE Act – garnered significant support in the House of Representatives last year, but the chances of passing either measure in 2020 appear slim.
“We are very hopeful for a markup in the Senate Banking Committee,” Rutter said of the SAFE Act, which would protect financial institutions that work with state-approved cannabis companies and was passed by the House last September.
“Beyond that, however, the bill’s fate is a little more uncertain,” Rutter continued. “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is opposed to cannabis reform -- even just allowing the cannabis industry to access the financial system -- so the chance of getting a Floor vote on SAFE this session is somewhat unlikely.”
She added that “cannabis is a unifying issue on Capitol Hill,” and said the NCIA has pledged to work with McConnell and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo to “get the bill over the finish line.”
When asked about the obstacles standing in the way of federal cannabis legalization, Correia said a lack of “broad acceptance and support” on Capitol Hill is holding the industry back.
“Politicians are risk averse and [are] not going to get in front of [a] social movement,” he wrote. “They love ‘slam dunk’ 80-20 issues and not 50-50 issues that are divisive. Plus, it takes broad coalitions to build up support for an issue. That takes time.”
Correia added that he joined the NCIA in 2013 and expected the effort to legalize marijuana at the federal level to be an “8-10 year process.”
That timeline could help explain why he is optimistic about the chances federal legalization by 2022. Nevertheless, Correia repeatedly mentioned how acceptance for cannabis has shifted since he began lobbying in 2013, and shed some light into his process for convincing lawmakers to support bills such as the MORE Act, which would remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act and require federal courts to expunge cannabis-related offenses within one year of its passage.
“Know your audience,” he wrote. “Going into a Republican office is different than going into a Democratic office and they are more receptive to different approaches. Could be jobs, tax revenue, social justice, federalism.”
When asked about the organization’s lobbying clout in Washington D.C., Correia called attention to the NCIA’s political action committee (PAC), which raised $58,425 through the first six months of 2019.
“We know politicians love campaign money,” he wrote, noting that the NCIA uses PAC donations to “attend political fundraisers and promote candidates that support positive cannabis policy reform.”
By comparison, the National Beer Wholesalers Association, which has successfully lobbied on behalf beer distributor interests for decades and boasts one of the largest business PACs in Washington D.C., hauled in more than $1.9 million last year.
THCnet submitted a question about the inability for cannabis firms to ship product across state lines, and whether large multi-state cannabis operators would be less likely to continue to financially supporting federal legalization efforts as more states approve adult-use sales.
“That is an important question we see playing out now,” Correia admitted. “Politicians in Congress care about their states and districts, so the more states that pass legalization, the more politicians in DC supporting this issue.”
He added that multi-state operators would be able to access markets where they haven’t invested in growing operations should interstate cannabis commerce become a reality.
“Even if they invest heavily in 5 states, the passage of laws allowing interstate commerce would mean that they would be able to access additional markets that they have not developed physical presences in yet,” he wrote.
The NCIA representative also answered questions about expungement, growing American support for marijuana and efforts to protect small startup cannabis businesses as the cannabis industry matures.
Those responses can be found on the Reddit thread.