By John Schroyer
Before landing her current job as deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, Taylor West spent more than a decade working in national politics, including four years in Washington DC.
During that time, West gained insight she can use today to assess the likelihood of federal change on the cannabis front.
Marijuana Business Daily sat down with West recently to get her thoughts on how the 2016 election could impact the cannabis industry and the chances of meaningful MJ reform for businesses.
What kind of cannabis-related reforms do you think Congress or President Barack Obama could move on in the near future?
I’m not optimistic that we’ll see much out of the president at this point. The president pretty clearly stated on multiple occasions now that he thinks this is an issue that needs to be dealt with by Congress.
As much as I’d like to think he’ll have a change of heart, he’s said it enough times now that I think he’s sticking to it.
From a congressional standpoint, there seems to be some movement in Congress around some kind of CBD legislation that protects businesses and patients that are involved with those products.
The second piece where we’re most likely to see some movement is on banking. There is a possibility that we’ll see an amendment that says the Department of the Treasury cannot spend any of the funds being appropriated to them to go after financial institutions that serve legitimate cannabis businesses.
We’ve seen bipartisan action on that in the past two years, and it’s probably our best bet for getting any kind of banking activity between now and at least the election.
How would this type of banking reform affect the cannabis industry?
It’s a little bit unclear whether an appropriations amendment on banking would have as dramatic an impact, as we need to create an industry-wide solution, in part because appropriations have to be renewed every year. So it wouldn’t be a guaranteed multi-year protection for banks, and some of them may continue to be risk-averse on it.
But it would send a very clear message.
When we look to the election this November, are there any potential changes at the federal level that could have a major impact on marijuana companies and pro-cannabis bills in Congress?
There is the possibility that this year the Senate could change hands, from the GOP to the Democrats. That would be a huge deal, because that means all of the committee chairs change hands.
One of the hardest things for our issues is simply getting a hearing on some of these standalone bills.
We have good legislation that has been introduced in the House and the Senate, on banking, on tax reform, we have the CARERS Act.
But because the committees in which they’re sitting are chaired by Republican senators who are very opposed to (marijuana), they have a very difficult time getting a hearing, much less a vote.
Any sense as to what will happen with marijuana’s legal status if Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is elected, given that they’re the presidential frontrunners?
I would expect Hillary to continue the policy we’ve seen from the Obama administration.
With Donald Trump, I have not the slightest idea. As with most things, he’s been a bit all over the map. He hasn’t been as clearly against legalization as some other Republicans, but he also isn’t exactly laying out a clear philosophy of how he would handle it.
Depending on how the state level referenda pan out this fall, there’s going to be increasing pressure on Congress to deal with the conflicts between federal and state law.
If California passes adult use, that’s a huge state in terms of political power. At the moment, you’ve got a lot of members who don’t have any kind of legal marijuana in their state, and frankly, if they don’t have it in their state, most of them don’t want to think about it.
Any predictions on marijuana wins or defeats at the state level?
Right now, things are looking good in a lot of places.
In California, the biggest challenge was to get supporters united behind one referendum, and I think we’re approaching that now.
Nevada is already on the ballot, and polling seems to be good. Massachusetts is likely to have (recreational) on the ballot, and polling is pretty strong.
I think we’ll also see the medical initiative in Florida pass. Ohio is another big state that could have legal medical after the election. And that more than anything else is going to have an impact on the ability to move legislation through Congress.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
John Schroyer can be reached at [email protected]