In 2012 I was fortunate enough to attend the Students for Sensible Drug Policy conference in Denver, Colorado. I met a lot of people at that event whom I have been working with on activism ever since.
One of the big treats of the event was talking to Steve DeAngelo of Harborside Health Center. Steve had just wrapped up a speech and was walking past a table I was sitting at and we struck up a conversation about activism.
Steve explained to me that all areas of activism are noble and worthwhile, but that the hardest areas of cannabis reform to gain traction in were the ones that didn’t get much attention.
This was at a time when there were no legal adult-use states in America, and raids on dispensaries and gardens were common.
Mr. DeAngelo pointed out that the media is quick to come out when law enforcement is dressed in paramilitary gear and waving guns in people’s faces, and as a result the public outcry is quick.
It is much more difficult to drum up public support and interest for things that are considered to be ‘boring’ by most people.
Below are three areas of cannabis reform that need more support and attention from the public. That’s not to say that the topics aren’t covered from time to time, because they certainly are, but not nearly enough:
Civil Asset Forfeiture
Civil asset forfeiture is the seizure and forfeiture of assets that are the proceeds of, or were used to facilitate crimes.
The federal government has a partnership with law enforcement agencies across America that results in a portion of what is seized going to the federal government, and the rest going to the agency or agencies involved in the seizure.
These programs give law enforcement the incentive to target certain activities, with cannabis sales being a very popular target, and not just dispensaries and cultivation operations.
One of the most egregious examples of the horrors of civil asset forfeiture involves the story of a 72 year old grandma from Philadelphia who had her house seized because her grandson was caught selling $140 worth of cannabis.
She was never charged with a crime, yet her house was seized. Had it not been for her fighting it all the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and winning, she would have been homeless.
Americans are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, but with civil asset forfeiture, it’s grab what you see of value, and ask questions later. With charges often not being filed in forfeiture cases, many go unnoticed.
This area of reform is extremely important, as what is seized in the name of prohibition is then used to go after more people for cannabis.
For many Americans, math is a very boring subject. Taxes are particularly boring to most people, which is why accountants crush it.
Cannabis opponents know that taxes are about the least sexy issue that there is, so rather than make a big deal about how the federal tax code treats cannabis businesses, they just stay quiet and duck conversations to maintain the status quo.
Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code does not allow cannabis businesses to deduct regular business expenses like any other business, which results in paying as much as 40% more than they would if they were allowed to make reasonable deductions.
That has a tremendous impact on the cannabis industry, which in turn has a huge impact on reform efforts. Imagine how much more money the cannabis industry could donate to reform if 280e didn’t exist.
Tax reform has been getting more coverage lately with the rise of the cannabis industry, and support has been growing in Congress, which is where reform would have to originate.
But there is still a lot of work to do. A number of bills have been introduced into Congress. Do your part and educate your elected officials and let them know that cannabis businesses should be taxed the same way as any other legal business.
Cannabis companies and other entities have had bank accounts for years, but for a long time were considered to be under the radar.
As the cannabis industry has grown, banks have taken a proactive approach and shut down a number of accounts, even though no violation has occurred.
A chilling effect has spread across the banking industry, with most banks refusing to work with cannabis companies, no exceptions.
In 2014 the Obama administration issued what is known as the Cole memo, which was supposed to ease banking restrictions on the industry. Unfortunately it has had little effect.
Some credit unions will work with the industry, but their locations are limited, and even some credit unions will cut off an account in the blink of an eye.
The cannabis industry is a multi-billion dollar industry in America, and it’s largely a cash-only industry. That is a logistical issue for the industry, but a public safety issue for all Americans.
Cannabis business should be able to have bank accounts like any other legitimate business. The eye popping numbers in the cannabis industry get a lot of attention, but the fact that it’s almost all cash often gets overlooked.