The journey continues
It’s hard to believe that it has been seven years since I first started working for NCIA. I remember like it was yesterday when I saw the job advertised and thought, “this has got to be the coolest job in America” (which it is!). Being Director of Government Relations has afforded me the opportunity to grow personally and professionally, meet wonderful and exciting people, build something great, be at the forefront of a national movement, and make a little history at the same time. I wouldn’t change one day.
But, these are uncertain times. This COVID-19 pandemic will touch everybody, sooner or later (including myself), and I can’t help but think about those less fortunate than me. My thoughts go out to everybody during these trying times and know that we will only get through this by helping out each other. Although I usually don’t spend much energy reminiscing about the past, when the future is so exciting and limitless; I find it therapeutic and something to take my mind off the stresses we are all feeling.
A lot has changed since I first began my journey in 2013. We hadn’t even had our first legal sales (that would take place in Colorado in 2014). At the time, NCIA had four staff and about 300 member businesses and although the challenges were great, the uncertain future was exciting. Even though I remember thinking on my first day “okay, you have no staff, no budget, no office; where to begin?”
I always knew where I wanted to go.
My vision had 6 main points:
1. Increase the visibility, and acceptance, of the cannabis issue on Capitol Hill and the general public;
2. Bring professionalism to the cannabis industry;
3. Provide cannabis industry representation in D.C. equal to other industries;
4. Build up a government relations office we can all be proud of;
5. Succeed on the eventual federal legalization of cannabis;
6. Transition NCIA into a traditional trade association, post-legalization.
I knew this would not happen overnight, and I knew I wanted to do it right, no cutting corners, and so I took the long view.
I remember coordinating my first NCIA Lobby Days, where 30 brave souls ventured to D.C, now, well over 200 attend! I remember holding our Lobby Days training session in the back of a bar (nothing like learning how to lobby while drinking beers!), whereas now we use hotel ballrooms, provide breakfast, and have multiple speakers. I remember printing our Lobby Days meeting schedule on an Excel spreadsheet (feels like ages ago!), while now we use an app! I remember my first press conference and being too nervous to think straight.
I remember the Washington Post Style Section story on me, and riding the Metro the next day looking at people reading the paper with me on the cover! I remember CBS news following me around Capitol Hill, and having Gayle King give me a shout out! I remember attending marijuana working group meetings on Capitol Hill, when only a handful were interested in the issue, whereas now over 50 regularly attend.
I remember when Congress voted on the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment (that protected medical marijuana from federal prosecution), which won (a year before most people thought it would). I remember that vote, because it was the same day my daughter was born (running back and forth between Capitol Hill and the hospital!).
I remember hiring Michelle Rutter as my coordinator (who has been by my side for almost six amazing years). I remember moving into our first office (and not having to do business at Starbucks any more!).
I remember attending one of my first Congressional fundraisers and a Senator visibly backing away from me as we shook hands (as if I had the plague!). I remember the creation of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus (we were finally legit!).
And I remember the House passage of the SAFE Banking Act (my proudest moment so far!).
When I was hired, I had envisioned federal legalization taking 8-10 years. I am now in year seven and am still optimistic about my dream being realized in that time. Slow and steady wins the race. Legalization will not happen overnight. It will not happen this week, this month, or even this year. And legalization will not happen because “somebody else” gets involved. It will only happen if YOU get involved. Get educated on the issue. Support advocate organizations pushing for cannabis reform. Make donations to state legalization efforts. Join NCIA and come to our Lobby Days this September!!
Eleven states have legalized adult-use cannabis laws (which grows every election!). The support on Capitol Hill has never been higher. NCIA has almost 20 total staff, about 2,000 member businesses, and a beautiful Capitol Hill townhouse that members of Congress use for events. My phone rings off the hook with politicians wanting our money and endorsements. NCIA has most definitely “arrived.” I couldn’t be happier with the results we have achieved and prouder with what we have built. After seven wonderful years (and two amazing daughters), I am still lobbying for NCIA. The journey continues on…
Be safe everybody!