by Mike Lomuto, DEI Manager
For the second time in nine months, NCIA’s DEI Program organized a DEI Delegation as part of our annual Lobby Days on Capitol Hill.
The DEI Delegation consists of some of the foremost advocates for Social Equity from across the country. Their leadership within their state and local communities, as well as within NCIA’s Committee structure, greatly bolsters the lobbying efforts of our organization as a whole, all year round.
Our Delegates weighed in on the organization’s talking points ahead of the event, and then provided an important perspective on the Hill. As part of NCIA’s lobbying on behalf of the industry, our members focused on SAFE Banking, 280E Reform, Comprehensive Legalization, Veterans Affairs, and more.
Thanks to TILT Holdings and Evergreen Market for sponsoring this very important initiative.
As stakeholders in the cannabis industry, it is important that we learn how to also properly advocate for ourselves and for others from diverse communities around the country.
We’ve already begun raising funds for next year’s DEI Delegation. If you want to ensure the return of this initiative, while also receiving year-round recognition, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org
2023’s Lobby Days DEI Delegation:
Raina Jackson, Purple Raina; DEI Committee Organizer and Policy & Regs Subcommittee Chair
Dr. Adrian Adams, CGO at Northeast Extracts; NCIA’s DEI Committee; M4MM’s NY State Director
Vanessa Valdovinos, HUSH; NCIA’s Marketing & Advertising Committee Organizer
Anthony Jenkins, Next Level Edibles; NCIA’s Cannabis Manufacturing Committee
This is your first year as a Delegate. Why was it important to you to participate?
Participating in Lobby Days allowed me to contribute my personal experiences, expertise, and insights as someone running a small business in a highly regulated market. I wanted to have a voice in shaping legislation related to crucial topics that are important to me like providing an equitable pathway in the cannabis space. By being present at Lobby Days, I could truly contribute to the development of policies that would essentially help shape policies that promote a safe, inclusive, and thriving cannabis industry for the benefit of all.
You were a member of last year’s Delegation. Tell us why you chose to return this year, and how your experience last year influenced your game plan for this year.
Last year was more about figuring out who in each office was the one driving the cannabis policy car, if you will, meeting them where they were, and schooling them up. This year we did a better job as a small group in each office using each of our bios to tell an impactful story regarding the impact of SAFE Banking and 280E, and tying it to what some offices have done in their home district.
It was a wonderful experience to participate in Lobby Days 2023, especially after attending last September for the first time and learning so much. I appreciate that this year’s meetings were extended over two days, following in-person training at the glorious Michael Best Strategies office penthouse.
Like last year, I found that most Congressional staffers are quite open-minded and seek to understand our points of view to correctly convey them to the lawmakers they serve. I learned that we don’t have to agree on every single detail to come to a compromise, especially since the People have spoken and demand some form of safe cannabis access and decriminalization nationwide. Bipartisan efforts must match public opinion.
What were the main takeaways from your experience on Capitol Hill?
Most staffers were not familiar with 280E and how it disproportionately burdens cannabis businesses with paying upwards of 50 to 70% of revenue towards federal, state, and local taxes without the tax write-offs other industries enjoy at a 30% standard rate.The new proposed Small Business Tax Equity Act eliminating 280E for cannabis businesses would greatly improve the economic landscape, while still representing a net gain for the national economy. This credit would allow more businesses to stay afloat and continue to pay taxes at a more equitable rate over a longer period. Everybody wins!
SAFE Banking could potentially happen sooner than I thought if it originates from the Senate side.
My main experience in Capitol Hill taught me that with planning and footwork, it is possible to reach elected officials, even highly ranked officials like US Senators. And from the feedback we received from both Democrats and Republicans, most representatives are on board with all 3 (hemp updates, 280e reform, SAFE Banking).
One of my main takeaways from this experience was the immense value of hearing personal stories that shed light on the diverse perspectives within a highly regulated market. By listening to the struggles and triumphs shared by individuals, I gained a deeper understanding of the challenges we all face on a day-to-day basis. I also realized that by sharing our own truths and insights, we can provide invaluable perspectives that others can learn from. Personal stories have the ability to bridge gaps in understanding and create empathy, which are crucial for the progress of any industry.
An important component of Lobby Days is the in-person training session. This year, Reggie Babin provided some great insights. As the former Chief Counsel to Senator Charles Schumer, who worked directly on the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, his words resonated throughout the room and our lobbying efforts over the ensuing two days. One thing that stuck with me is when Reggie compared the ten years it had just taken to get reform through on a non-cannabis issue. That bill had strong sentimental support and near-unanimous public opinion on its side. Given that context, it made it clear that we’re on schedule for SAFE Banking. It also means we need to be pushing on other legislation that may likewise take many years to push through.
He also pointed out how any one conversation that we have could be the one that flips the vote that is the final domino on passing legislation. That’s why our stories are so important.
What did you learn from your experience that you’d like others to know?
As NCIA DEI Delegates we must control our own narratives and help illuminate the state of our industry by putting names and faces to our stories and sharing our triumphs and pain points. I’m glad we are revisiting the SAFE Banking Bill, which is vital to public safety and economic growth along the supply chain. It is paramount that the bill is passed in any version initially, with room for amendments to weave PLUS equity initiatives into the fabric.
The circle of leaders at the top of the cannabis industry is relatively small and many of those folks attend the lobby days of groups like M4MM and NCIA. Your attendance is good for business as well as for the creation of informed public policy.
Another important lesson I learned was the significance of building relationships. Engaging with lawmakers directly and sharing my own personal experiences and insights was a driving force for me. It was inspiring to witness their genuine interest in hearing directly from industry professionals. Establishing meaningful connections with policymakers is key so that our industry is properly understood and represented.
I learned that an impassioned personal message goes a lot further than you think. Which is why we need you next year. Because we need our officials to hear your story, and how these issues affect you, your business, and your family daily.
What’s something you loved about visiting D.C. outside of the Lobby Days activities?
It was the opportunity to connect with my fellow members on a deeper level that truly resonated with me. During our time together, I had the privilege of hearing their unique personal stories and gaining a deeper understanding of what had motivated them to participate in Lobby Days. These stories were inspiring and just reminded me of the incredible passion and dedication within our community.
The personal stories, the camaraderie, and the bonds we formed have created a network of support and friendship that extends far beyond the event itself. It was a truly special aspect of the trip that I will cherish for years to come.
Just seeing the unique D.C. cannabis market in action with entrepreneurs like Barry Doyle/Embers and others holding unique events. As Anthony Jenkins from San Francisco put it, “it was like seeing the future of cannabis in the U.S.”
I appreciated that this year my group had time between and after meetings to visit D.C. landmarks like the Botanical Garden, the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial, and the Washington Monument. I even extended my stay to experience the phenomenal National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The botanical garden was dope!
P.S. Something else I’d like to note is that in the weeks leading up to Lobby Days, I embarked on the Equity Workshop Tour, a series of workshops held in four cities, bringing together industry stakeholders, leaders, advocates, and regulators. This experience was highly informative for me to hear all these stories prior to our lobbying work in D.C. It was also great to see some of the same faces that I had seen across the Tour again in D.C!