Federal lobbying expenses by cannabis and hemp organizations fell slightly during the first quarter of 2020, according to a Cannabis Wire analysis of disclosure reports. But cannabis companies have ratcheted up their efforts in recent weeks as federal lawmakers work to address the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In total, cannabis entities spent about $2.6 million on federal lobbying from January through March, compared to $3.3 million during the last quarter of 2019. The industry hit sizable legislative goals last year, including a historic vote on the SAFE Banking Act in the US House of Representatives, but have so far been unable to capitalize on the momentum. That measure, which would protect banks from penalties for doing business with cannabis companies, as cannabis remains federally illegal, has yet to have a hearing in the Senate.
Greenwich Biosciences, a US subsidiary of the British GW Pharmaceuticals, maker of the first FDA-approved cannabis plant-derived drug, Epidiolex, led the pack on lobbying expenses. The company spent $490,000 to press lawmakers and regulators on cannabis research, the SAFE Banking Act, and “appropriations issues related to the FDA CBD products and HHS pertaining to CBD policy.” Greenwich Biosciences also spent $1.9 million last year on federal lobbying alone, more than any other cannabis-focused entity. The company’s significant lobbying presence also includes efforts in every single state on cannabis-related issues, as Cannabis Wire has reported.
Industry groups, hoping, before the coronavirus hit, to build on the momentum of 2019, also had an active presence on Capitol Hill during the first quarter. The Cannabis Trade Federation, along with PAC, Cannabis Trade Federation Action, paid lobbyists $345,000. Among the measures on its agenda: the SAFE Banking Act; the MORE Act, which would legalize cannabis; and “the elimination of 280E,” a section of the Internal Revenue Code which forbids businesses from deducting expenses related to the trafficking of Schedule I or II substances. The National Cannabis Roundtable, another industry association, spent $220,000 on lobbyists, focused on many of the same issues.
Two multistate cannabis operators, Parallel and Curaleaf, spent more on lobbying during the past quarter than other cannabis companies: $220,000 and $200,000 respectively. Parallel indicated it supported efforts related to cannabis legalization and banking reform.
Curaleaf, meanwhile, notably lobbied on “provisions in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Stability Act relating to SBA loans.” Since cannabis is still a Schedule I drug under federal law, even state-legal cannabis companies are not eligible for aid, such as the Paycheck Protection Program or economic injury disaster loans. Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Ed Perlmutter introduced legislation last week that would extend federal relief efforts to the cannabis industry.
After the US House passed the latest coronavirus relief bill last Thursday, which did not include access for cannabis-related businesses, the National Cannabis Industry Association said it would continue to lobby on the issue: “We are extremely disappointed that Congress again excluded legal cannabis businesses and thousands of their hardworking employees from the benefits of this legislation,” said Gina Kranwinkel, the organization’s CEO.
Given the pandemic, the near future of industry lobbying efforts is uncertain. Cannabis operators—including multi-million dollar corporations—are likely to continue to push lawmakers for financial relief. But the industry also might continue to scale back on spending, as Cannabis Wire reported, as the prospects of a recession draw nearer.