Cannabis Lobbying Heats Up As Congress Looks At Pot Banking

  • Industry and others spent $2.5 million on lobbying in 2018
  • Bankers, veterans, Indian tribes have a stake in pot policy

The cannabis industry and others who stand to benefit from pot legalization have been boosting their lobbying presence on Capitol Hill.

Banks, marijuana delivery services, and veterans groups helped drive cannabis-related lobbying revenues to $2.5 million in 2018, according to lobbying disclosure filings.

The stepped-up efforts came as more states legalized marijuana, creating a disconnect with federal law, which still classifies marijuana as an illegal substance. Cannabis is legal in some form—from limited medical use to full recreational use — in more than 30 states.

In the financial services sector, the push has been for a “safe harbor” from sanctions for banks in states where pot is legal.

“It is critically important that cannabis-related businesses (CRBs) have access to services provided by the traditional banking system,” the Independent Community Bankers of America says on its website.

State Bank Northwest President Gregory Deckard is to testify on behalf of that group Wednesday at a House Financial Services Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions Subcommittee hearing on banking services for pot businesses.

(Photo by Robin Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
California Compassionate Care Network marijuana dispensary grow operation

A sampling of the cannabis lobbying presence on Capitol Hill:

  • The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) registered its first in-house lobbyists in 1999. Another pro-weed legalization group, the Marijuana Policy Project, followed suit in 2002. The two groups still rely on their internal advocates and have no outside lobbying firms.
  • The National Cannabis Industry Association set up its lobbying shop in 2011. In addition to its own in-house lobbyists, the group has contracted with VS Strategies and Federal Advocates, Inc.
  • Federal Advocates, Inc. also represents a number of other pot-related clients, including the Veterans Cannabis Project, which pushes for the unrestricted access to marijuana as part of medical care for veterans. It also represents Canndescent, which sells “luxurious cannabis products,” according to its website, and a cannabis investment firm called Acreage Holdings.
  • Cannabis Trade Federation recently hired VS Strategies. It also employs Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and the Raben Group. VS Strategies disclosed in its registration forms that it would be working on a number of issues including removing marijuana from the Controlled Substance Act and exempting state marijuana activities from the federal law. The firm is also pushing for research on the medical benefits of pot.
  • The New Federalism Fund, which is working with the American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp, reported having Jochum Shore & Rossevin and Trumpa Group on retainer. Jochum Shore & Rossevin hasn’t filed 2018 fourth quarter disclosure forms so it’s unclear whether they still represent the group.
  • Americans for Safe Access, an advocacy group that wants to legalize cannabis for use in therapy and research, has an in-house Washington lobbyist.
  • Trulieve, which also sells cannabis products, has Ballard Partners, a firm with ties to the Trump administration, advocating on its behalf. It is lobbying on banking policy and medical marijuana policy.
  • Surterra Wellness, another seller of cannabis and CBD oils, has one in-house advocate and has also signed MLJ Strategies, the Smith-Free Group and McGuireWoods Consulting.
  • Eaze Solutions, a medical marijuana delivery service, has law and lobbying firm Holland & Knight on retainer.
  • WeedMaps, an app that allows consumers to find marijuana dispensaries, has Liberty Government Affairs.

Other groups with lobbyists on retainer include the California Cannabis Industry Association, the Oregon Cannabis Association, Washington CannaBusiness Association, Canadian cannabis company Tweed, and Curaleaf — formerly known as PalliaTech — which bills itself as the largest national retail dispensary brand in the U.S.

Alcohol Interests

National organizations with other primary missions also have shown an interest in marijuana legislation.

Veterans groups, including the American Legion, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the Paralyzed Veterans of America, are active in lobbying on cannabis issues, primarily allowing access to medical marijuana.

Alcoholic beverage groups view pot as a potential competitor: The Beer Institute, Beam Suntory, Constellation Brands — known for producing brands such as Modelo and Corona beers and Svedka vodka — and the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America all listed cannabis as a lobbying issue on disclosure forms last year.

Medical groups, such as the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association, lobby on marijuana research.

Indian tribes are also joined the lobbying on marijuana. Firms representing the Ho-Chunk Nation Legislature, Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, the Suquamish Tribe and the Puyallup Tribe have all listed cannabis or marijuana issues on disclosure forms.

Thompson Consulting Group, which lobbies on behalf of the Puyallup Tribe, said in the disclosures the firm would “communicate with congressional offices on economic development and cannabis issues.” It has not been active, however, on the tribe’s behalf since the end of March 2018.

The community bankers began listing “cannabis banking” on its lobbying disclosure forms early last year. The Credit Union National Association has been lobbying on marijuana issues since 2013, according to lobbying disclosures filed with Congress.

The credit union group has been lobbying on marijuana issues since 2013, according to lobbying disclosures filed with Congress. The community bankers began listing “cannabis banking” on its lobbying disclosure forms early last year.

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To contact the reporter on this story: Megan R. Wilson in Washington at