Irina Dashevsky, partner at Greenspoon Marder LLP in Illinois and co-chair of their cannabis practice group, anticipates that the federal legalization of cannabis could be a decade away, and if the industry wants to see change at the federal level, it’s going to take a joint effort.
“State after state is legalizing [medical cannabis] and then legalizing adult-use. So, there’s consensus. And yet at the federal level, that hasn’t caught up,” Dashevsky says. “That’s probably because cannabis isn’t a bread-and-butter issue. It’s not, ‘Oh, my gas prices went up, and I really need the government to deal with that immediately.’ There are a lot of other important issues: wars, inflation, unemployment … that have the attention of our elected officials.”
Dashevsky says federal change will take a concentrated effort, adding that the industry as a whole should commit more time, focus and lobbying dollars to strategies that have helped encourage legalization at state and local levels.
Connect With Elected Officials
To get more involved at the federal level and engage in legalization efforts, Dashevsky suggests connecting with elected officials. This could start with a congressman or Senator, but also even a state representative, an attorney general or the Governor.
Dashevsky also suggests connecting with officials who already focus on cannabis or those who support legalization. For example, she referenced Rep. La Shawn Ford in Illinois, whose primary focus is increasing equity and justice in the cannabis industry. “[He] is the go-to person for when you have a cannabis concern [in Illinois],” she says.
Dashevsky added that governors and attorney generals typically already have connections at the federal level.
“For example, I know that many state attorney generals are proactively advocating for the [Safe and Fair Enforcement] (SAFE) Banking Act” she says. “So, it’s about letting the elected officials around you know what’s going on.”
Businesses should also inform elected officials of the most common challenges they face in the industry, Dashevsky says.
“For small businesses, it’s going to be access to capital, especially recently, right? They can’t just get a small business loan. They can’t get certain kinds of grants, etcetera,” she says. “For larger companies, it’s a host of other things, including maybe access to U.S. capital markets.”
Work With Trade Associations
Dashevsky recommends going to an industry-focused trade association and asking them if they could think about or try to create a lobbying presence in Washington, D.C.
“[For example,] let’s say there’s the Illinois Independent Craft Growers Association, and they have a lot of issues and concerns within Illinois that they want to address,” Dashevsky says. “But when you get past your immediate problems, like getting operational, and you think a little bit broadly, that organization could also be thinking about things at the federal level and bringing issues at the state level to the federal level for attention.”
She also referenced connecting with advocate legalization groups like the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) or engaging with groups that are already lobbying for cannabis reform at the federal level such as the National Cannabis Roundtable (NCR).
Dashevsky also says it’s important to think ahead and determine what you are trying to obtain and achieve with your business.
“Are you looking for an exit one day? What are you building, and why are you building it? Within [those answers], there’s probably going to be something that you could say to an elected official or a change you wish you could have at the federal level,” she says.
She suggests dedicating a “small pocket” of resources to engage in a discussion with an elected official.
“Whether you say, ‘I’m a member of this trade organization or ‘Hey, I’ll write a letter to the Congressman or the Senator I know is a proponent and tell them what I think.’ You don’t have to go full-bore [and] you don’t have to have a massive budget, but devoting some thought leadership to the question I think is important,” she says.
Dashevsky adds that many of her clients have expressed being in the cannabis industry is like “constantly drinking out of a fire hose,” where they are too busy focusing on navigating pressing issues and their day-to-day, rather than thinking about what operations will look like down the line.
“The justification is you have to take a broader view of where things are at. If your view is surviving because you’re just aware of the market that you know and how you know it, you should [know] change at the federal level could very much change your circumstances, could change your plans and could change your projections,” she says. “It’s an ever-changing industry. So, thinking a little bit ahead, naturally, one must think about what’s happening at the federal level or what could happen.”