The results, however, have been pretty paltry: Cannabis is still illegal nationwide, businesses still can’t bank or deduct expenses on their taxes like other merchants, and legitimate interstate cannabis commerce remains a distant dream. With few exceptions, bipartisan bills that would de-schedule the drug or give businesses tax relief are still withering in committee without hearings, let alone votes.
In other words, the new wave of spending hasn’t bought any results—even though President Donald Trump has reportedly said he’d sign a bill letting states freely legalize cannabis if Congress passes one, and even though Attorney General William Barr told Congress that he prefers cannabis reform to the current status quo.
Cannabis lobbyists point out that theirs is still a very young industry and the game in Washington is a long one. The first legal sale of commercial recreational cannabis was in January 2014, and even if an overwhelming majority of voters clearly want legalization, a corresponding shift in Congress will take time.
“We’re just doing what we’ve always done,” said Neal Levine, a former lobbyist with the legalization advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project who is now the executive director of the Cannabis Trade Federation (formerly named the “New Federalism Fund”).
In Washington, “we’re operating like every other industry out there,” hiring lobbyists with “subject-matter expertise” and the right connections, he added, “except that we’ve got federal issues that nobody else shares.”