This year’s National Cannabis Industry Association’s (NCIA) Lobby Days will be one to remember. As the largest national trade association representing small to medium-sized cannabis businesses across the country, the NCIA is dedicated to advancing the interests of the legitimate and responsible cannabis industry.

Lobbying for Cannabis Reform with the NCIA

For those unfamiliar, the NCIA organizes an annual event every May, now in its twelfth year, bringing together its members from all over the United States. These members come from all sectors of the cannabis industry to Capitol Hill to share their experiences and advocate for changes in the cannabis laws. Lobby Days are crucial for helping lawmakers understand the real-world impacts of current legislation on cannabis businesses.

Key Issues on the Agenda

This year participants lobbied for several critical changes, including:

  1. Removing Cannabis from Schedule I: This change would significantly expand medical research opportunities on cannabis.
  2. Repealing Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code: Currently, Section 280E forbids cannabis businesses from deducting business expenses from their taxes, unlike other legitimate businesses. This makes it difficult for these businesses to thrive.
  3. SAFE Banking Act: One of the most pressing issues is the adoption of the SAFE Banking Act, which would allow legal cannabis businesses to access essential banking services. Currently, these businesses often operate on a cash basis due to federal restrictions, posing significant safety risks and compliance challenges. The SAFE Banking Act aims to protect financial institutions from federal penalties when dealing with cannabis businesses, bringing much-needed modernization to banking laws.

NCIA Chief Strategy Officer Brooke Gilbert and Deputy Director of Events, Brian Gilbert

NCIA Chief Strategy Officer Brooke Gilbert and Deputy Director of Events, Brian Gilbert

A Warm Welcome

Upon arrival, attendees were greeted by NCIA Chief Strategy Officer Brooke Gilbert and Deputy Director of Events, Brian Gilbert, who, despite being brand new parents, ensured everyone was well-prepared for the days ahead. Their warm welcome set the tone for a productive event.

Opening Evening Reception

The event kicked off with an evening reception for attendees to mingle and connect. CEO and Co-founder of the NCIA, Aaron Smith, welcomed us all. The informal setting allowed for sharing and fostering a sense of camaraderie among participants.

NCIA Co-Founder and CEO Aaron Smith with Head Magazine Editor and Publisher Charlotte Parker

 

 Dinner with Industry Leaders

After the reception, many attendees continued the evening with dinner with old and new friends. I was fortunate to dine with Dope CFO powerhouse Kristi Vanee Kem, along with her colleague and friend, the influential Shane Gallagher, National Cannabis Practice Manager at Kastle Systems, and Serena Nguyen Cone, one of the country’s leading specialists in tribal cannabis, fusing her knowledge of government and cannabis accounting.   

I also learned that Shane is spearheading a movement to educate consumers about craft cannabis and terroir (the environment in which it is grown), a subject that he and Kristi are both passionate about, To learn more about terroir read our story in Head Magazine about it here.

Two of my Dinner Companions: Shane Gallagher of Kastle Systems and Dope CFO’s Kristi Vanee Kem

Two of my Dinner Companions: Shane Gallagher of Kastle Systems and Dope CFO’s Kristi Vanee Kem

These interactions offer invaluable networking opportunities and the chance to discuss the day’s events in more detail.

Getting the Gang Together on a Rainy Morning

Every year the NCIA gathers all the participants for a morning meet and takes a class photo to launch the full day of lobbying. This was a rainy morning which made it even more fun.

The Lobbying Experience

Participants were organized into teams of four or five. Each team had a team leader and had a slate of meetings set up with members of Congress and the Senate to discuss these issues. These meetings, arranged by the NCIA’s Director of Government Relations, Michelle Rutter Friberg, are intended to explore where the representatives stand on these issues and discuss how laws can be crafted to enhance safety and fairness in the cannabis industry.

A Full Day of Lobbying

The day was dedicated to a full slate of lobbying. My team, led by Dr. Cynthia Shelby-Lane, a physician and anti-aging specialist who, aside from her cannabis advocacy work, is also in Phase Two training to be an Analog Astronaut in coordination with NASA! Our team was not short on passion and dynamism with two financial experts, Dianira Young, and Cathy Smith.

My team at NCIA Lobby Days: Left to Right: Cynthia Shelby-Lane MD, Head Magazine Editor and Publisher Charlotte Parker, Accounting Professional Cathy Smith, Financial Expert Diandra Young

My team at NCIA Lobby Days: Left to Right: Cynthia Shelby-Lane MD, Head Magazine Editor and Publisher Charlotte Parker, Accounting Professional Cathy Smith, Financial Expert Dianira Young

We generally met with the staffers of the lawmakers, and the meetings were interesting and productive. I found the staffers uniformly open and friendly and willing to speak with us candidly about their bosses’ positions. During our conversations we were able to ascertain actions that we could take to move our legislative goals forward.

Our schedule was busy; each session meticulously planned with the help of Michelle Rutter Friberg’s comprehensive app. It gave each team their schedule, which included each lawmaker they were visiting, the lawmaker’s position on the issues, their voting record, relevant personal information and information about the aides we would be meeting.

At the end of the day, the teams met with over 130 congressional representatives. The groups were varied and covered a wide variety of Congressional Representatives and Senators with varied positions on Cannabis. Photos of some of the teams are below.

As it happened, one of my meetings was with my own Congressman, Brad Sherman.

Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) with Head Magazine Editor and Publisher Charlotte Parker

Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) with Head Magazine Editor and Publisher Charlotte Parker

Evening Reception

After a long day of lobbying, we were treated to an evening reception with more networking, partying and hanging out. 

Fearless leader Aaron Smith gave out awards to those who had worked so hard on behalf of fair and equitable cannabis legislation including Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) for his tireless support in reforming cannabis legislation.

NCIA Co-Founder and CEO Aaron Smith at the Closing Reception

NCIA Co-Founder and CEO Aaron Smith at the Closing Reception

Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) addressing the crowd at NCIA Evening Reception

Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) addressing the crowd at NCIA Evening Reception

Once again, I met memorable people such as rising star Lexie Barton, Director of Client Strategy at Data Analytics Firm BDSA and Vice Chair of National Cannabis Industry Association‘s Education Committee for 2024.

Lexie Barton of BDSA and Vice Chair of NCIA’s Education Committee

Lexie Barton of BDSA and Vice Chair of NCIA’s Education Committee

After Party

There were a wide variety of after parties. I met the amazing Michelle Rutter Friberg who insisted I join her as her guest to a series of after parties. So happy to spend this time with her!

Michelle Rutter Friberg, NCIA’s Director of Government Relations

Michelle Rutter Friberg, NCIA’s Director of Government Relations

Closing the Event

The final day included more lobbying sessions.  I guess we did a great job – because at the end of the day, President Joe Biden made a historic announcement that the Department of Justice has decided to reclassify marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III. You can read more about this development in Head Magazine’s article here.

Conclusion

The 2024 NCIA Lobby Days showcased the power of collective advocacy. By bringing together voices from all sectors of the cannabis industry the event highlighted the critical issues facing these businesses and worked towards meaningful legislative changes. With dedicated participants and the unwavering support of the NCIA, the future of the cannabis industry looks promising.

Charlotte Parker is Editor and Publisher of Head Magazine and HeadMagazine.com.