Former House Speaker John Boehner is leading a new pro-marijuana policy lobbying group that will focus on relaxing federal tax and regulatory policy while allowing states to take their own approaches on legalization.
The National Cannabis Roundtable is partnering with sellers and practitioners across the country to promote marijuana-friendly policies, Boehner said during a Feb. 8 conference call with reporters. The organization’s identified partners include the National Holistic Healing Center—a medical cannabis dispensary located in Washington, D.C.—and the law firm Greenspoon Marder LLP, which has a cannabis tax sub-practice. When asked who was funding the group, Boehner referred to the industry partners.
Boehner emphasized during the conference call that both Republicans and Democrats could get on board with pro-cannabis policy. He noted that President Donald Trump at one point voiced support for legalization, and that Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) have spearheaded cannabis-friendly policies as well.
“This is not a partisan issue,” Boehner said.
The organization’s priorities include removing federal prohibitions on medical cannabis research as a means of combating the opioid epidemic, helping state-legal marijuana businesses get access to banks, changing “flaws” in the tax code, and advocating for “federal legislation allowing states and territories to set and enforce their own laws governing cannabis,” according to its website.
33 states, along with the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico, have legal medical marijuana. Recreational marijuana is less common—it is legal in 10 states and D.C.
Legislation Already Introduced
Boehner’s group appears to already have some allies on Capitol Hill: Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on Feb. 7 introduced legislation (S. 420) that would legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis at the federal level. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) in January introduced a similar bill (H.R. 420) in the House.
“The federal prohibition of marijuana is wrong, plain and simple. Too many lives have been wasted, and too many economic opportunities have been missed,” Wyden said in a Feb. 8 statement.
S. 420 would remove many of the obstacles that marijuana businesses face, according to a fact sheet on Wyden’s website. Many of the issues highlighted by Wyden and Blumenauer are also priorities for Boehner’s new lobbying organization.
For instance, Boehner’s group aims to take on tax code Section 280E, which bars state-legal cannabis companies from deducting most ordinary business expenses and only allows them to write off expenses that go into the cost of goods sold. The prohibition on deductions often drives the businesses’ effective tax rates as high as 70 percent.
The former speaker suggested both legislative and administrative routes for targeting the tax code section.
“Not everything in the tax code is legislated,” Boehner said when asked whether the group would seek to push the Internal Revenue Service to stop enforcing Section 280E. “You could go about it in several different ways.”
Banking, Medical Research Priorities
Cannabis companies and those they do business with currently risk losing access to their banking services due to federal prohibitions on marijuana.
Federal regulators have stated that federally regulated banks may do business with cannabis companies, but must file suspicious activity reports for every transaction. Many financial institutions view that requirement as too burdensome and instead simply drop the companies as clients. Boehner’s group lists allowing state-legal cannabis companies to access “traditional institutions for transactions and access to financial markets” among its objectives.
Medical researchers also face obstacles because of federal marijuana policy, another priority issue for the National Cannabis Roundtable.
Marijuana is currently considered a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which effectively limits the amount and type of research that can be conducted on the drug.
In the meantime, universities and researchers worry they may risk their DEA licenses or federal funding if they conduct research using cannabis products from retail or state dispensaries. In addition, cannabis products cannot be purchased with federal funds, analytical labs with a Schedule I license cannot receive cannabis products from nonfederal sources, and laboratories without a Schedule I license can’t conduct valid analytical testing on cannabis.
‘Advisory Role’ for Boehner
This isn’t the first time Boehner, a former opponent of marijuana legalization, has gotten involved in marijuana issues since he left the House in 2015. He joined the advisory board of cannabis producer and dispensary Acreage Holdings in April. Acreage is one of the partners involved in the National Cannabis Roundtable.
Boehner, serving as a senior strategic advisor at Squire Patton Boggs in Washington, said he wouldn’t register as lobbyist for the cannabis group. Lobbying will be handled by Squire Patton Boggs, the Liaison Group, and HDMK LLC, while Boehner will serve in more of an advisory role, according to Boehner and a statement from the National Cannabis Roundtable.
—With assistance from Lydia Beyoud and Dana Elfin