Part 2: To Lobby or Not to Lobby: That is the Cannabis Question

Canna-biz: A Closer Look at the Medical Marijuana Industry in the Capitol City.

The cannabis business is booming in Florida.

The state currently has 13 active licensed marijuana treatment centers, 150 dispensing locations, 250,000 active patients and 2,500 physicians certified to issue prescriptions.

Stearns Weaver Miller shareholder Glenn Burhans says the industry could see major changes soon.

Pending litigation is challenging the caps on the number of licenses that can be used and pushing against the current requirement of vertical integration.

‘Which means a company that cultivates the medical marijuana, processes it, also has to sell it,’ explained Burhans. ‘So, it’s not a horizontal or flat market.’

That helps control the number of people and companies involved and making inventory control, tracking and security more easily enforced and monitored. Some claim it inhibits market growth.”

Why lobby against cannabis?

Anti-legalization group releases first pot lobby tracker showing political donations to federal candidates mark growth in industry, according to Stephanie Akin on January 22, 2019:

“A group opposed to the legalization of marijuana on Tuesday unveiled a tool to track industry donations to federal candidates. 

Smart Approaches to Marijuana, or SAM, is the first major opposition group to attempt to quantify the industry’s federal-level lobbying efforts,a sign of the growing profile of the legalization movement.

It also marks a gradual shift in focus from state legislatures, where a raft of measures legalizing the sale of recreational and medicinal use have put more pressure on Congress to reclassify the drug and remove federal restrictions on banking and research.”

But more recently, on April 24, 2019, Chris Roberts exposed how The Weed Industry Is Burning Millions on DC Lobbyists and Getting Nowhere:

In its quest to usher in a new world of legal profit where the global weed trade is no longer controlled by drug traffickers, the rapidly growing American cannabis industry is using a very old strategy: showering lobbyists with money and unleashing them on Congress.

In recent years, a growing number of recently formed cannabis trade groups have enlisted the services of former staffers for top Republicans and Democrats, now working at some of K Street’s most prominent lobbying firms, disclosure forms show. Cannabis lobbying groups are spending up to $60,000 a month apiece trying to win friends and persuade recalcitrant lawmakers to see their point of view.”

On August 31, 2019, Christopher Caldwell asked and answered a tricky question Do We Really Want a Microsoft of Marijuana? Giving the weed industry access to sophisticated financing would turn smaller businesses into big corporations:

“The legalization of marijuana as a medicine in 33 states, 11 of which allow its use as a recreational drug, has made weed a dynamic American industry, among the economy’s fastest-growing sources of new jobs.”

However, Florida operators are already heavily in the lobbying mix. On September 5, 2019, Jeff Smith revealed, not surprisingly, that both Curaleaf, Surterra among big spenders on federal marijuana lobbying:

“The marijuana industry has spent about $2 million so far this year lobbying for federal cannabis reform in Washington DC, and more than half that money has come from individual MJ-related companies.

Businesses and lobbying organizations said the investments are critical in helping lawmakers and federal regulators understand the importance of cannabis-related issues.

They are focusing on vexing industry problems such as banking, as well as broader reform and legalization efforts. The payoff comes when reform occurs or public policy becomes clear, and companies can plan and operate accordingly.

Kansas City, Missouri-based Dama Financial, which provides financial services to the cannabis industry, has been lobbying for the SAFE Banking Act, which would enable banks to serve state-legal cannabis businesses without fear of federal punishment.”

According to data published by the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics at OpenSecrets.org as seen here, the following multistate medical marijuana giants have spent substantial lobbying money in 2019:

  • Curaleaf ($400,000) and
  • Surterra ($240,000) trail only
  • Cannabis Trade Federation ($482,500)
  • The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) ($220,000)
  • Canndescent ($140,000)
  • Tweed/Canopy Growth ($130,000)
  • Trulieve ($80,000)
  • Marijuana Policy Project ($75,000)
  • Dama Financial ($60,000)
  • PharmaCann ($60,000).

On September 9, 2019, Lauren Gardner covered How marijuana is poised for a North American takeover:

“The United States is feeling some North American peer pressure to get in on the cannabis boom.

Producers in Canada, where marijuana is legal for medicinal and recreational uses, are already planning for a future where pot is a globally traded commodity, and some are setting themselves up to profit if it is legalized in the U.S.

In Mexico cannabis is legal for medicinal purposes, and the landscape could shift further. In Washington, support for liberalizing marijuana laws is growing in Congress, many of the 2020 Democratic contenders for the White House back the push, and President Donald Trump is even said to be willing to sign a measure to give states the power to decide for themselves whether to make weed legal.

But despite the budding momentum, bills to legalize marijuana or at least decriminalize it aren’t expected to pass before the 2020 presidential election. Amid the changing tides to the north and to the south of the U.S., that political reality threatens to stunt the growth of the domestic market and hamper the potential for companies and states to cash in on a global trade worth hundreds of billions of dollars.”

Perhaps the current federal cannabis lobbying will at least succeed in shifting the context in which Americans view cannabis. Perhaps the context is indeed finally shifting with the pro-marijuana lobbyists balancing out the anti-marijuana voices in this national cannabis commotion. Only time will tell. 

Like Jacob Levine observed in Cannabis Discourse, “We need to rethink our perception of drugs and substances in general. We humans have always used drugs and will use drugs well into the foreseeable future, whether for medical, recreational, or spiritual purposes. The main issue we have with drugs is not the drugs in and of themselves, but the context of their uses.”

I wholeheartedly agree: a U.S. cannabis-context shift must occur soon in order for the nation to open up the doors on research and therapeutic use.

If it takes cannabis lobbying in either direction to move the nation into a new era of much-needed cannabis research rather than over-regulation an age of freedom and safe banking rather than a questionable cash only canna-economy and a nationwide, inclusive shift in the overall perception of cannabis use and the plant’s endless benefits rather than the existing exclusive and tangled patchwork of programs across individual states.

The time for cannabis change is now. The U.S. is poised on a cannabis precipice. With a peek across, it is easy to see that the time for substantial cannabis change is now. Let the games begin, or at least let each individual state’s cannabis game continue unimpeded.

Peeking into the future of unimpeded state cannabis access, back on April 28, 2019, Emily Price reported in Forbes that In Florida, You Can Purchase Cannabis Through a Drive-Thru:

Louisiana has drive-thru margarita spots, and now Florida has its own drive-thru dispensary. It actually has a few. Curaleaf opened a new drive-thru cannabis dispensary in the United States in April 2019 and is located northwest of Miami International Airport. The company actually piloted the program in Palm Harbor last summer and launched a second drive-thru in Orlando.

The drive-thru concept is thanks in part to patients asking for it. Joe Lusardi, Curaleaf CEO said in a statement, ‘As Curaleaf continues to deliver on its expansion strategy, understanding many of our patients live with debilitating conditions that may impact mobility, we are proud to now offer Miami area patients our premium quality medical marijuana products through online orders that may be fulfilled via our drive-thru or free delivery service.’

Mel Meléndez, Editor-in-Chief of South Florida Business Journal, pondered if Cannabis dreams up in smoke? in his September 20, 2019 opinion piece, astutely noting: The irony of regulations that could hinder small business in a state known for its small business ‘spirit’ isn’t lost on me.

When the smoke clears, the U.S. will witness that in Florida and in 35 other states across the nation, the cannabis games have already started, and right now is indeed the most appropriate and opportune time for concrete cannabis reform to also begin at the federal level.