Cannabis and hemp companies in 2019 spent more than ever before on lobbying in the U.S., as popular support for legalization spread and the prospects for banking reform gained momentum. What that means for 2020, of course, is unknown, given the unknown effects of the COVID-19 epidemic on the economy and the culture.
Federal lobbying expenses totaled nearly $11 million last year, according to a Cannabis Wire analysis of disclosure reports. In 2018, that spending at the federal level was just $3.6 million.
Last year, the industry saw some significant victories. Congress, for the first time, voted on a cannabis bill when the U.S. House passed the SAFE Banking Act, although it remains stuck in the Senate. The MORE Act, which would legalize cannabis, also made historic, albeit incremental, progress in Congress. And, unsurprisingly, the rapidly growing industry increasingly spent to influence the federal government. (Read Cannabis Wire’s coverage of the SAFE and MORE Acts.)
Four entities—Greenwich Biosciences, the Cannabis Trade Federation, Curaleaf, and Parallel—each spent more than $1 million.
Greenwich Biosciences, the U.S. subsidiary of GW Pharmaceuticals, a British company, paid federal lobbyists $1.9 million last year. The organization lobbied the US House and Senate, the Food and Drug Administration, the US Department of Health and Human Services, and the White House. GW—maker of the first FDA-approved cannabis plant-derived drug, Epidiolex—has a massive lobbying footprint in the U.S. via Greenwich, as Cannabis Wire reported, one that spans far beyond the federal government, with ongoing efforts in all fifty states.
The Cannabis Trade Federation, meanwhile, spent $1.7 million on lobbying. Formed in 2018, the industry group lobbied on more than twenty cannabis-related bills, including the SAFE Banking Act, which would shield banks from federal penalties for working with the cannabis industry; the STATES Act, which would shield state-legal cannabis programs from federal interference; and the REFER Act, which would prohibit the federal government from using funds to intervene in state cannabis programs or punish banks for serving the industry. Disclosure reports show CTF broadly supported “federal legislative efforts to close the gap between federal and state cannabis laws.” Representatives from some of the nation’s largest cannabis companies are listed as board members, including Parallel, Native Roots, LivWell, and Cresco Labs.
Lobbying expenses for the Massachusetts-based Curaleaf totaled $1.4 million in 2019. The multi-state operator, one of the highest-valued in the US, weighed in on medical cannabis research, federal banking guidance, the SAFE Banking Act, and the STATES Act.
Likewise, Parallel spent $1.04 million on lobbying last year. The Atlanta-based company’s four lobbying firms, along with an in-house lobbyist, urged lawmakers to pass the STATES Act and the SAFE Banking Act. In addition to Congress, the company also lobbied the US Treasury Department, the Office of Management and Budget, and the National Economic Council. Parallel’s largest market is Florida, where it has thirty-nine stores.
Other organizations that spent to lobby federal officials include the National Cannabis Industry Association and the National Cannabis Roundtable, and major companies including Canopy Growth, Trulieve, and Acreage.
Additionally, cannabis companies and their executives collectively gave more than $200,000 in federal campaign contributions last year, according to finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
US Representative Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon, through his political committee, Blumenauer for Congress, received eighteen donations from executives across the industry totalling nearly $30,000, the most of any candidate. Among those who donated to Blumenauer’s PAC are Acreage CEO Kevin Murphy, Cresco Labs CEO Charlie Bachtell, Green Thumb Industries CEO Ben Kovler, and former MedMen CEO Adam Bierman.
Close behind, Republican Senator Rand Paul’s PACs, Rand Paul for US Senate and Rand Paul Victory, raked in about $21,000 last year. Most of the contributions came from Alex Coleman, the former CEO of TILT Holdings. Coleman also gave $64,400 to the Republican National Committee.
Jonathan Boord, Chief Strategies Officer of Native Roots, and Steve Brooks, owner of Denver’s Lightshade dispensaries, each donated $2,800 to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s committee.
A number of 2020 presidential hopefuls also received contributions from the cannabis industry. Senator Cory Booker’s presidential PAC took in $12,000, almost all of which came from executives of the multi-state operator iAnthus. Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Kamala Harris, and South Bend Mayor Pete Butteigieg also received donations.
This analysis does not include state-level activity, or the multitude of outside entities that are increasingly eyeing cannabis—and hemp. For example, Constellation Brands, which is the parent company of Corona beer (and has invested $4 billion in Canopy), and Anheuser-Busch both lobbied on cannabis measures last year. Two major agriculture companies, Archer Daniels Midland and Syngenta AG, set their sights on federal hemp regulations. Kroger, the nation’s largest supermarket chain, also lobbied on issues related to hemp after it began carrying CBD products.
The next reporting deadline for lobbying reports arrives on April 20.
The list of cannabis and hemp companies that lobbied in 2019 is below: