Who’s who in federal marijuana reform and legalization

Image depicting lobbyists on Capitol Hill

The movement to overhaul federal marijuana policy has gotten more crowded in recent years, with new trade associations, business groups, social justice activists and lobbyists joining calls to legalize the plant.

The collection of stakeholders also has become much more diverse.

A decade ago, it was mostly marijuana consumers and medical cannabis patients.

Today, organizations spending money and time calling for changes to marijuana laws boast memberships that include multistate operators, state-level cannabis regulators, minority entrepreneurs, high-profile Republican politicians, foreign corporations, the producer of Marlboro cigarettes and the owner of Corona beer.

“When I first started, there were six paid nonprofit advocate lobbyists, including myself, and seven paid for-profit industry suits,” said Justin Strekal, a former political director at NORML who began lobbying Congress in 2016 to legalize marijuana.

“Today, there are four nonprofit advocate lobbyists and hundreds of registered lobbyists representing the industry, which is a tectonic shift,” Strekal said.

But with that crowding comes differing values and competing political agendas, Strekal and others noted.

Particularly, big-business interests have begun fighting behind the scenes – and occasionally in the open – against traditional “free the plant”-type activists.

That culture clash has been gaining steam, as the marijuana industry has flourished and attracted business executives who focus solely on profit margins.

Today, that divide has become more focused on policy questions, including:

  • Interstate and, eventually, international cannabis commerce.
  • Home cultivation by consumers.
  • License caps and efforts aimed at making the industry more diverse through social equity programs.

Steve Hawkins, president of the U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC), said he hasn’t seen much divergence between the various players lobbying Congress on marijuana reform.

“That does not mean there won’t be subtle differences that will emerge, but broadly speaking, we are all on the same page,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins noted that both he and Rezwan Khan – the president of the Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce and a former USCC member – were present for U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace’s unveiling of the States Reform Act in November, despite some tension over a Daily Beast report that same month that questioned the goals of some USCC members.

As more industry insiders raise their voices to call for marijuana legalization – and subsequent market regulation – MJBizDaily decided it was important to catalog who’s involved in the federal discussion and where they stand on key issues.

Here’s a compilation of nonprofits, trade associations and political action committees attempting to influence how marijuana legalization plays out:

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American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp

Year founded: 2014

Organization type: 501(c)6 nonprofit trade association.

Agenda/mission: “ATACH promotes the expansion, protection, and preservation of businesses engaged in the legal trade of industrial, medical, and recreational cannabis and hemp based products.”

Specific policy goals:

  • Access to banking and capital markets.
  • 280E reform.
  • Creating and harmonizing industry standards.
  • Criminal justice reform.

Bills endorsed or candidates supported: SAFE Banking Act, States Reform Act, HOPE Act, Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.

Membership base/noteworthy members, contributors, backers: Boveda Inc, Drug Plastics, Organigram, Canopy Growth, Columbia Distributing, Duane Morris LLP, Keef, Cannacraft, Poseidon Asset Management, Kalo, BR Brands, Adolphus Busch V, Scott Coors, and collaborates with over 20 state-level organizations and with international organizations such as ASTM International and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

Interstate commerce: Supports.

Americans for Safe Access (ASA)

Year founded: 2002

Organization type: 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

Agenda/mission: “To ensure safe and legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic use and research.”

Specific policy goals:

  • Reclassification of marijuana on the Controlled Substances schedule.
  • Robust scientific research into cannabis’ medical properties.
  • Federal civil rights protections for marijuana consumers.
  • Any other issues that affect a patient’s ability to access cannabis as medicine.

Bills endorsed or candidates supported: VA Medical Cannabis Research Act; Veterans Medical Marijuana Research Act; Medical Marijuana Research Act; Cannabidiol and Marijuana Research Expansion Act

Membership base/noteworthy members, contributors, backers: 150,000 members in 50 states

Interstate commerce: Supports.

Better Organizing to Win Legalization Political Action Committee (BOWL PAC)

Year founded: 2022

Organization type: Political action committee.

Agenda/mission: “Defeat marijuana prohibitionists in Congress. … BOWL PAC works to unify the public, interest groups, and policymakers behind a comprehensive approach to marijuana legalization and justice for those who have been harmed under its criminalization.”

Specific policy goals:

  • End the prohibition and criminalization of marijuana.
  • Expunge the criminal records of those who are held back in life as the result of a cannabis conviction.
  • Invest the economic benefits that come with legalization into the regions that have been disproportionately targeted by the war on drugs, particularly communities of color.
  • End arbitrarily discriminatory and nonscientific drug-testing policies.

Bills endorsed or candidates supported: To be determined.

Membership base/noteworthy members, contributors, backers: BOWL PAC is part of the Marijuana Justice Coalition, along with the Drug Policy Alliance and several other national reform groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union. In addition, Democracy for America, Data for Progress, More Perfect Union, Roots Action, the Hip-Hop Caucus and U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib all supported BOWL PAC’s call for President Joe Biden to pardon those with cannabis-related criminal records.

Interstate commerce: No position.

Cannabis Freedom Alliance (CFA)

Year founded: 2021

Organization type: “CFA is not an organization but instead a coalition of groups that have a shared vision for federal cannabis reform.”

Agenda/mission: “End the prohibition and criminalization of cannabis in the United States in a manner consistent with helping all Americans achieve their full potential and limiting the number of barriers that inhibit innovation and entrepreneurship in a free and open market.”

Specific policy goals:

  • Descheduling and criminal justice reform.
  • Reentry for individuals who were formerly incarcerated, or current gray-market operators, so they can participate in the legal marijuana market.
  • Promoting entrepreneurship in free and open markets.
  • Competitive and reasonable tax rates.

Bills endorsed or candidates supported: States Reform Act.

Membership base/noteworthy members, contributors, backers: Charles Koch, Americans for Prosperity, Reason Foundation, Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce, The Weldon Project, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, R Street Institute, End it for Good, Students for Liberty, Taxpayers Protection Alliance, Consumer Choice Center.

Interstate commerce: Supports. “Congress ought to facilitate free and open interstate commerce as there is with most other commercial products in the U.S. and not place the cannabis industry in a second-tier status merely to lock in the competitive advantages some operators have in states with a limited number of licenses.”

Cannabis Regulators Association (CANNRA)

Year founded: 2020

Organization type: Nonpartisan educational organization with no position on legalization.

Agenda/mission: “Ensure federal officials benefit from the vast regulatory and implementation experiences of state cannabis regulatory agencies to ensure that any changes to federal law adequately address states’ needs and priorities.”

Specific policy goals:

  • Safeguard public health and safety.
  • Share best practices.
  • Work toward uniform industry standards.

Bills endorsed or candidates supported: Not applicable.

Membership base/noteworthy members, contributors, backers: 39 state government agencies as well as regulators from 37 states, the District of Columbia and Guam. Membership is limited to regulators and representatives of relevant governments. Industry participants are not eligible.

Interstate commerce: No position.

Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition (CRCC)

Year founded: 2020

Organization type: Nonprofit.

Agenda/mission: “We focus on equity-centered regulation, industry best practices, and cannabis competency and standardization.”

Specific policy goals:

  • Five equity-centered principles of governance (transparency, consistency, evidence, accountability and representation).
  • Five equity-centered principles of policy (dismantling the drug war and its impacts, protection for cannabis patients, community investment, fair taxation and prevention of monopolies and oligopolies).

Bills endorsed or candidates supported: The organization has made no endorsements.

Membership base/noteworthy members, contributors, backers: Former Massachusetts regulator Shaleen Title, Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation chief Cat Packer, Marijuana Policy Project Executive Director Toi Hutchinson.

Interstate commerce: No position.

Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education and Regulation (CPEAR)

Year founded: 2021

Organization type: 501(c)(4) nonprofit.

Agenda/mission: “Works to advance comprehensive policy solutions for cannabis legalization and regulation.”

Specific policy goals:

  • “Predictable, equitable, achievable, internally consistent, and enforceable” federal regulations for a national marijuana industry.
  • Criminal justice reform, including expunging marijuana-related criminal records.
  • Social equity for those affected by the war on drugs.
  • Ensure market access for small businesses.
  • Promote scientific research into marijuana.
  • Sound tax policy.

Bills endorsed or candidates supported: States Reform Act; Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act; HOPE Act.

Membership base/noteworthy members, contributors, backers: Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, former U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, Marlboro cigarette maker Altria Client Services, alcohol giant and Corona owner Constellation Brands, Convenience Distribution Association, The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers, beer titan Molson Coors Beverage Co., National Association of Convenience Stores, former Minority Cannabis Business Association President Shanita Penny.

Interstate commerce: Supports. “A federal cannabis framework should create a fair and level playing field for businesses of all size to participate in and benefit from full interstate commerce.”

Council for Federal Cannabis Regulation (CFCR)

Year founded: 2021

Organization type: 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

Agenda/mission: “Our overarching goal is the de-stigmatization, normalization, and legitimization of cannabis.”

Specific policy goals:

  • Destigmatize, legitimize and normalize cannabis.
  • Serve as a conduit for scientific research, education and best practices to support the industry.
  • Invest in regulation.
  • Inform and support U.S. Food and Drug Administration safety requirements.

Bills endorsed or candidates supported: Not applicable.

Membership base/noteworthy members, contributors, backers: Former Canopy Growth CEO Bruce Linton, Newt Gingrich’s half-sibling Candace Gingrich, Jim Esquea, vice president of public affairs for Scotts Miracle-Gro.

Interstate commerce: No position.

Drug Policy Alliance (DPA)

Year founded: 2000

Organization type: 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

Agenda/mission: “Marijuana should be removed from the criminal legal system and regulated for adult use, with equity, social justice, and community reinvestment at the core.”

Specific policy goals:

  • Deschedule marijuana.
  • Reinvest marijuana tax revenue into communities most harmed by prohibition.
  • Resentence and expunge marijuana convictions.
  • Diversify the regulated market.

Bills endorsed or candidates supported: MORE Act, Drug Policy Reform Act.

Membership base/noteworthy members, contributors, backers: The DPA is part of the Marijuana Justice Coalition, which includes the ACLU, the BOWL PAC, NORML, SSDP, the Veterans Cannabis Coalition and many other national organizations.

Interstate commerce: Yes, but with caveats. “We believe Congress should specifically allow states to ban, limit or delay interstate commerce in a way that promotes equity, or to limit the ability to engage in interstate commerce to small and/or equity owned companies.”

Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce (GACC)

Year founded: 2019

Organization type: 501(c)(6) nonprofit trade association.

Agenda/mission: “Legalizing and regulating the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and use of medical and adult use cannabis products globally.”

Specific policy goals:

  • Legalize and regulate marijuana commerce globally.
  • Ensure patient and adult-use access through a competitive industry.
  • Normalize medical and recreational use of cannabis.

Bills endorsed or candidates supported: SAFE Banking Act, MORE Act, States Reform Act, Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.

Membership base/noteworthy members, contributors, backers: Most members are California-based, including Urbn Leaf, 420 Central, Raw Garden, Legion of Bloom. Multistate operator 4Front Ventures is also a member. GACC is also part of the Cannabis Freedom Alliance.

Interstate commerce: Supports. “Interstate commerce is indistinguishable from legalization.”

Marijuana Policy Project (MPP)

Year founded: 1995

Organization type: 501(c)(4) nonprofit. The group also has a political action committee and a separate nonprofit foundation.

Agenda/mission: “Legalize cannabis nationwide.”

Specific policy goals: The MPP is more focused on state-level campaigns than federal reform. In 2022, its efforts will center on recreational legalization efforts in Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland and Rhode Island as well as medical marijuana bills in Nebraska, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Bills supported: SAFE Banking Act, Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, MORE Act, States Reform Act, Common Sense Cannabis Reform for Veterans, Small Businesses, and Medical Professionals Act.

Membership base/noteworthy members, contributors, backers: The MPP is part of the U.S. Cannabis Council and shares staff and resources with the organization.

Interstate commerce: No clear position. “MPP’s mission is to work towards legalization of cannabis in each individual state.”

Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA)

Year founded: 2015

Organization type: Nonprofit trade association.

Agenda/mission: “We actively work with members of Congress and industry to shape emerging federal law. … Our mission is to create equal access for cannabis businesses and economically empower communities of color through policy, programming, and outreach initiatives to achieve equity for the communities most impacted by the War on Drugs.”

Specific policy goals:

  • Ensure the inclusion and success of minorities in the cannabis industry.
  • Promote meaningful community reinvestment and corporate responsibility.
  • Restore basic rights of citizenship to those with criminal cannabis records.

Bills endorsed or candidates supported: SAFE Banking Act, MORE Act, Clarifying Law Around Insurance of Marijuana (CLAIM) Act.

Membership base/noteworthy members, contributors, backers: Cresco Labs, Weedmaps, Hawthorne Gardening Co., Parallel, Curaleaf. The MCBA has also teamed with the Cannabis Freedom Alliance and the Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce on some marijuana issues.

Interstate commerce: Supports, but with caveats. “We support a thoughtful and measured approach to interstate commerce that ensures access to an interstate market for small and minority cannabis businesses.”

National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA)

Year founded: 2010

Organization type: 501(c)(6) nonprofit trade association. The NCIA also has a political action committee.

Agenda/mission: “To promote the growth of a responsible, sustainable, and inclusive cannabis industry and work for a favorable social, economic and regulatory environment for that industry throughout the United States.”

Specific policy goals:

  • Deschedule and regulate marijuana federally.
  • Social justice and equity in the marijuana industry.
  • Fair tax policy.
  • Legal industrial hemp and CBD.

Bills endorsed or candidates supported: SAFE Banking Act; MORE Act; States Reform Act; Ensuring Safe Capital for All Small Businesses Act; Common Sense Cannabis Reform for Veterans, Small Businesses, and Medical Professionals Act; Clean Slate Act; Hemp and Hemp-Derived CBD Consumer Protection and Market Stabilization Act; Hemp Access and Consumer Safety Act. Through its political action committee, the NCIA has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars since 2010 to both Democrats and Republicans in Congress who support cannabis reform.

Membership base/noteworthy members, contributors, backers: Roughly 2,000 members across the supply chain, including huge multistate operators such as Trulieve and small independent operators, including the Tahoe Wellness Center, as well as ancillary businesses.

Interstate commerce: No clear position. “While we don’t have an official publication on the topic yet (stay tuned!), NCIA does support federal and state policies that would foster the free and regulated flow of cannabis and cannabis products between the states.”

National Cannabis Roundtable (NCR)

Year founded: 2019

Organization type: 501(c)(6) nonprofit trade association.

Agenda/mission: “Seek cannabis reform which nurtures the nascent domestic industry, protects consumers and advances social equity.”

Specific policy goals:

  • SAFE Banking Act.
  • Access to institutional investment.
  • Veterans research.
  • Repeal Section 280E of the federal tax code.
  • Clemency for federal cannabis prisoners.

Bills endorsed or candidates supported: SAFE Banking Act; MORE Act; Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act; Medical Marijuana Research Act; Emergency Cannabis Small Business Health and Safety Act.

Membership base/noteworthy members, contributors, backers: Several ex-federal officials from both parties, including former House Speaker John Boehner, former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, former Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole (author of the Cole Memos); and former U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner. Business members include Leafly CEO Yoko Miyashita, Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers, Ilera Holistic CEO Chanda Macias, Cresco Labs, CannaCraft, Pure Vida Investments and Urban-Gro.

Interstate commerce: No clear position. “Any policy addressing commerce between states should consider – before opening state markets – ensuring the integrity of existing state programs, the impact on small business owners and the impact on a state’s social equity program.”

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)

Year founded: 1970

Organization type: 501(c)(4) nonprofit. There is also a sister organization, the NORML Foundation, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and a separate NORML political action committee.

Agenda/mission: “Legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults.”

Specific policy goals:

  • Deschedule cannabis at the federal level.
  • Allow home cultivation.
  • Ensure low taxation.
  • Provide for automatic federal and state expungement and resentencing.
  • Support cannabis business opportunities in communities disproportionately impacted by prohibition.

Bills endorsed or candidates supported: MORE Act, SAFE Banking Act, States Reform Act, Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, Blumenauer-McClintock-Norton-Lee Amendment.

Membership base/noteworthy members, contributors, backers: NORML’s political action committee has given more than $79,000 to political candidates since 2001.

Interstate commerce: No clear position. “NORML generally supports interstate commerce but does not have a firm position on what that should look like or the way in which it should be implemented, save that it should be done in a way that benefits consumers and protects small businesses.”

Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP)

Year founded: 1998

Organization type: 501(c)(3) nonprofit and 501(c)(4) nonprofit.

Agenda/mission: “Ending the war on drugs.”

Specific policy goals:

  • Decriminalize all drugs.
  • Provide everyone, with an emphasis on youth, with access to honest drug education and harm reduction support services.

Bills endorsed or candidates supported: MORE Act, Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act, Drug Policy Reform Act.

Membership base/noteworthy members, contributors, backers: Alumni include former Massachusetts regulator Shaleen Title, 4Front founder Kris Krane and NisonCo founder Evan Nison.

Interstate commerce: Supports, but with caveats. “Yes, but only in a way that does not disrupt state social equity licensing and programming.”

U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC)

Year founded: 2021

Organization type: 501(c)(4) nonprofit.

Agenda/mission: “To act as one unified voice advocating for the descheduling and legalization of cannabis.”

Specific policy goals:

  • Descheduling of marijuana.
  • Social justice and equity for those affected by the war on drugs.
  • Creation of a sound regulatory environment.

Bills endorsed or candidates supported: States Reform Act, Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, MORE Act, SAFE Banking Act, HOPE Act.

Membership base/noteworthy members, contributors, backers: The U.S. Cannabis Council is comprised of several other organizations, including the Marijuana Policy Project, Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce and Last Prisoner Project. Big-name members also include Acreage Holdings, Canopy Growth, Columbia Care, Cresco Labs, Curaleaf, PharmaCann, Cronos Group, Ascend Wellness Holdings, Wana Brands, Jushi Holdings, Weedmaps, Hawthorne Gardening Co., CFG Bank, Perkins Coie and Eaze.

Interstate commerce: Supports, but with some delay. “New rules should recognize state programs, account for current legal obstacles and include a sufficient transition period after de-scheduling to ensure that regulators and businesses of all sizes – particularly emerging and social equity businesses – have the necessary time to adapt.”

John Schroyer can be reached at john.schroyer@mjbizdaily.com.