By Steven Hawkins
The energy behind federal cannabis reform – and criminal justice related to that reform – has reached a whole new level. Change requires coordination and cooperation across a wide range of stakeholders, and we need to speak with a single, powerful voice. The US Cannabis Council (USCC) is proud to serve as a unifying force for the industry and organizations within the movement to achieve meaningful reform in Washington, DC.
This week marks our one-year anniversary. Assisted by strong member growth and staff recruitment, we have quickly become a leading voice for the cannabis industry, not just on legalization but on a full roster of policy priorities, including expungement, social equity, banking services and tax reform.
Getting things done on Capitol Hill requires constituents connecting with their lawmakers. That is why we prioritized bringing cannabis CEOs to meet with Congress last November. The executives offered our shared federal priorities and spoke impactfully about the promise of an inclusive and values-driven industry to deliver profound social and financial benefits. USCC is organizing an even larger CEO fly-in for this spring.
Real change requires bipartisan support, and we have active and ongoing conversations on both sides. I was proud to stand alongside Rep. Nancy Mace at the unveiling of her States Reform Act and look forward to welcoming the introduction of the Cannabis Opportunity and Administration Act by Sens. Schumer, Booker and Wyden in April.
Late last year, we partnered with Reps. David Joyce and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the HOPE Act, which would provide funding to states and localities to expedite expungement of nonviolent cannabis offenses. We are similarly collaborating with Reps. Ed Perlmutter and Joyce on their SAFE Banking Act, which just passed—yet again—on the House floor.
USCC is working hard to boost support for banking reform and to convey the importance of banking services for small and minority-owned businesses. The truth is that well-financed operators have found workarounds to secure capital and banking. It ends up being more expensive and less efficient than normal banking, but it gets the job done. Not so for smaller operators who struggle to get by.
We heard this over and over during the briefing we hosted in October with minority cannabis business entrepreneurs. They shared their firsthand accounts of how lack of access to traditional banking services starves them of capital, steers them toward predatory loans and makes them highly attractive robbery targets.
The SAFE Banking Act is not a silver bullet for social equity in cannabis, but its passage will disproportionately benefit small and minority-owned businesses. In legislative terms, the bill is a stepping stone to broader reforms—or, if we’re not careful, a stumbling block. With Rep. Perlmutter retiring this year and many small and minority-owned operators on the ropes, we are committed to making the SAFE Banking Act the law of the land.
As we work to advance our agenda in Congress, USCC is also engaging leaders in civil rights, law and business to advance our mission of creating an equitable and values-driven cannabis industry. Our 28-member DEI Task Force, which launched in December, is busy at work and will soon launch an assessment tool that will provide cannabis companies with a DEI score, measuring their performance across recruitment, retention, procurement, governance and more.
We also kicked off a new internship program in January with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and in partnership with leading cannabis companies and reform organizations. Open to Black college seniors and recent graduates, the program provides valuable work experience in our dynamic and growing field. USCC will continue this program and launch others to help build a pipeline for diverse talent in the cannabis industry.
This is an election year, and Congress will soon grind completely to a halt as members hit the campaign trail. That is why we are continuing to push the Biden Administration to use its executive powers to clear regulatory hurdles, to increased cannabis research for instance, and grant blanket pardons for nonviolent cannabis offenses. In November, 24 of our member CEOs sent an open letter to the President calling on him to make good on his campaign pledge to do so. That campaign is ongoing.
In 2022, Americans will be looking to President Biden and Congressional leaders to deliver on their pledges around cannabis and criminal justice reform. Last year was a banner one for state-level legalization, but Congress failed to move the needle on federal reform. We are confident that can change this year.
In addition to the poll numbers and state-level wins, cannabis is increasingly an issue that motivates a sizable percentage of the electorate to get involved in politics and go out and vote. That provides a powerful incentive for Congress to show results heading into a midterm election where every single vote matters.
It may not always seem like it, but the cannabis industry is all rowing in the same direction on priority issues like banking. The American people are on our side, and there is no appetite for allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. We are committed to a big tent approach and know that we can achieve meaningful reforms this year that will set us on the path for our shared goal of full cannabis legalization.