The National Cannabis Industry Association, the first national trade organization advancing the interests of marijuana-related businesses, on Wednesday discussed the federal legislative needs of the industry at an event at the National Press Club.
Leaders of the industry joined Congressman Jared Polis (D-Colorado), as well as the manager of See Change Strategy, an independent firm that last week released the first-ever financial analysis of the legal medical marijuana industry in the United States.
The See Change report, based on interviews with more than 300 people in the industry, estimated the total legal medical cannabis market at $1.7 billion in 2011.
|Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) met with the National Cannabis Industry Association to discuss legislative goals
”Coloradans have known the positive economic benefit of the cannabis industry for quite some time,” Rep. Polis said. “Thanks to the voters of Colorado and the regulations established by the General Assembly, we have a vibrant new legal industry.
“Colorado’s entrepreneurial spirit is strong and our local and state governments are enjoying both the increased revenues from the taxation of the sale and production of medical marijuana as well as the reduced human and financial cost of fighting crime,” Polis said. “This report should serve as an important signal to all states considering reforming marijuana laws as well as to the federal government that in a comprehensive regulatory environment, the cannabis industry — like any other industry — can provide jobs, revenue for government and most importantly keep this substance out of the hands of children and vulnerable populations.”
“This is not an industry looking for special treatment but an industry looking to be treated on par with other small businesses,” Polis said. “We in Congress need to ensure that this industry can access banking, be treated like any other business under the tax code and has regulations to ensure the safety and efficiency of the market.”
Industry leaders highlighted the unique problems they confront as business people. In particular, they described the looming challenge presented by Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Service code, which, according to the IRS, prevents them from deducting legitimate business expenses.
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|Steve DeAngelo, Harborside Health Center: “Harborside is not a drug trafficking organization, we are a community service organization”
”We do not believe 280E, which was intended to apply to individuals who were clearly engaged in illegal behavior, should be applied to legal, licensed organizations like Harborside Health Center,” said Steve DeAngelo, executive director of HHC in Oakland. “Harborside is not a drug trafficking organization, we are a community service organization. Standards that were intended for street dealers of harmful drugs should not be applied to those easing the suffering of seriously ill patients.”
Another NCIA member shared the ongoing ordeal many organizations face as they attempt to secure and maintain accounts at financial institutions fearful of violating federal law.
“To say that it is frustrating having one bank account after another shut down is an understatement,” said Jill Lamoureux, managing member of Colorado Dispensary Services. “Access to banking is crucial for this emerging alternative healthcare industry. The capital-intensive nature of start-ups calls for traditional banking services, including credit facilities and equipment leasing options.
“And as the State of Colorado implements the first statewide regulatory system for medical marijuana, electronic banking and recordkeeping is essential for audit and tracking purposes,” Lamoureux said.
Meanwhile, Aaron Smith, the executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, touted the economic benefits of the industry and conveyed the mission of NCIA.
“The nation’s legal medical cannabis market is now worth nearly $2 billion annually and supports hundreds of small businesses and thousands of jobs,” Smith said. “All indications point to significant expansion of this sector of the U.S. economy in the years to come and the National Cannabis Industry Association was formed to provide the industry with a voice on the national stage alongside other legitimate business interests.”
Other members of the NCIA present at the event were Brian Cook, founder and president of Altitude Organic Corporation; Tripp Keber, managing director and sole owner of Dixie Elixirs & Edibles, LLC in Colorado; and Michael Backes, a member of the board of directors of Cornerstone Research Collective in Los Angeles.
NCIA says its mission “is to defend, promote, and advance the interests of the cannabis industry and its members. NCIA publicly advocates for the unique needs of the emerging cannabis industry and defends against those aiming to eliminate the legal market for cannabis and cannabis-related products.”