There’s a crowd of a few dozen people mingling about the Capitol grounds in dark suits, striped ties, power dresses and sunglasses on a summer-like spring day in the nation’s steamy capital. They look like they’re ready for a Republican fundraiser, but they’re actually marijuana business owners – everything from edible bakers to dispensary owners – from 20 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. There are no Birkenstocks or marijuana leaves in sight, well except one old hippy draped in a marijuana flag and one U.S. Congressman, Democrat Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, rocking a bowtie polka dotted with cannabis leaves.
The congressman is flanked by five of his Democratic colleagues and one Republican who are all here pushing their latest effort to reform the nation’s banking laws when it comes to the nation’s burgeoning legal marijuana industry, because marijuana is still on the federal books as a Schedule I narcotic, along with the likes of heroin and peyote. These lawmakers have an eager audience. A group of about 250 marijuana business owners have been storming congressional offices this week, trying to convince Republicans and Democrats alike to treat their businesses like every other legal business in the nation: They want access to the banking industry so they don’t have to operate as all cash businesses. They also want Section 280E – an obscure section of the tax code that bars cannabis businesses from taking deductions – changed, because it hits them with double and sometimes triple the tax penalty of federally recognized businesses. Democrats from the states that first legalized recreational weed have long championed the effort, but they’re now slowly picking up Republican support, too.
“This is an issue of fundamental fairness that legal, licensed, American businesses that are involved in legitimate trade are not allowed to deduct their business expenses. It’s fundamentally wrong, it’s unfair and it has to change,” Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo tells the crowd. “These are the types of businesses that we should be promoting, because they’re doing business the right way, under the law, consistent with their state’s regulations.”
There’s lots of cheering and clapping as the lawmakers take turns giving their little pre-packed, though impassioned, speeches. Chelsea Hopkins, who owns a dispensary with her husband in Eugene, Oregon, is standing in back of the lawmakers as they talk. But she’s the one with a real story to tell. Because they can’t write checks like other businesses, every month she and other marijuana business owners have to personally drive their cash deposits to Salem to pay their tax bill. There are some private security companies who have popped up to make the delivery for them, but that cuts into profits and not every mom and pop cannabis business can afford that.
“Most small business owners are driving $20,000 or $30,000 in cash once a month up to the capital to pay…