By Catherine DeMuro
WASHINGTON – Over 250 cannabis industry professionals took DC by storm for the 8th annual National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) Lobby Days, including several Vangst team members.
From May 21-23, industry leaders like Vangst founder Karson Humiston, along with Vangst team members Justin Adams, Amanda Guererro, and Maxwell Ireland, met with U.S. House and Senate representatives at over 200 individual meetings to advocate for a stronger and more legitimized industry, seeking to share positive industry gains and end federal-level discrimination against cannabis-related businesses.
They advocated for state-regulated cannabis programs and fair treatment for legal businesses, as stated in a press release from the NCIA.
“The whole point of the NCIA is to continue to help regulate the industry and get cannabis to a spot where it’s treated like any other product,” according to Vangst Business Development Manager Justin Adams.
“We were there to tell our stories of the things that we’ve had to deal with and the difficulties that these businesses have.”
This included seeking support for legislative bills that aim to limit or end the federal government’s interference with individual state cannabis laws and allow legal businesses to use regular banking services, which continues to be a huge obstacle for the rapidly expanding cannabis industry.
“We want to get regulations passed to be able to do business like any other business,” Adams said.
The hot ticket item for lobbyists was the reform of Section 280E, a part of the Internal Revenue Code that prohibits businesses associated with “trafficking” controlled substances from deducting ordinary business expenses from their gross income.
Since cannabis is still illegal on a federal level and is defined as a controlled substance, any sort of cannabis-related shop or establishment – including those in a legal state – falls under this jurisdiction.
For this reason, businesses end up being taxed on a gross income than does not deduct any business expenses, from which ‘regular’ business owners frequently gain a profit.
According to the NCIA, cannabis businesses often pay tax rates of 70% and up compared to the 30% rate for non-cannabis businesses.
“The states have already proven that replacing the criminal marijuana markets with tightly-regulated and transparent small businesses is working,” NCIA executive director Aaron Smith said.
“Now the responsibility falls on Congress to reform federal laws so that the legal cannabis industry can be treated fairly, like any other legitimate business sector in the U.S.”
Another issue that Vangst and NCIA members addressed was the difficulty of banking for businesses in the cannabis industry, many of which still rely primarily on cash.
“There is only one location we can bank the state of Colorado,” Adams said. Humiston spoke to representatives about what it’s like to be 25-year-old woman carrying around cash for her business.
“Fair business practices are important.”
– Justin Adams, Vangst
“Fair business practices are important. We’re an ancillary service to all of these businesses so it affects us all on a daily basis,” Adams said. “The ability to create a more fair cash flow system and business practices is important because it affects our businesses.”
Vangst team members spoke with the senior staff of Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo.; Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa.; Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Pa.; and Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash.
Both Democrat and Republican congressional representatives spoke at an NCIA press conference outside the Capitol on Wednesday.
Cannabis bills gained some momentum as Sen. Jeff Merkely, D-Ore., became the fifth U.S. Senator to sign on as a co-sponsor for the Marijuana Justice Act of 2017, introduced by Cory Booker in an effort to reform marijuana legislation.
The bill would, among other things, remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances list, ending the federal criminalization of cannabis.
Cover photo: NCIA representatives at the 8th Annual Cannabis Industry Lobby Days. Photo by NCIA.