Powerful Politicians Fighting For Cannabis: A Hyatt Family Billionaire Is In Strong Company

Regulations are a huge problem for the US cannabis industry as marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, forcing those involved to work around the many hurdles. Fortunately, more and more influential people are joining the effort to help bring about change. We call them friends of the industry. 

Without their sway, cannabis would not likely be legal in so many states nor be edging closer to federal legalization. These are the people who have and still are making a difference in this amazing industry. 

After the overwhelming success of Benzinga's 4/20 Miami event, the Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference is returning to Chicago on September 13-14.

As part of the event, Benzinga will celebrate the outstanding people, companies and organizations in the industry with the addition of the Benzinga Cannabis Awards.

In one of the categories, Benzinga will honor outstanding lawmakers, politicians or lobbyists who have helped advance the marijuana industry in the U.S. 

Category: Friend Of The Industry Award

David Joyce

David Joyce (R) has served as the U.S. representative for Ohio’s 14th congressional district for nine years. As co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, Joyce is fighting for federal cannabis reform. 

In May 2021, Joyce and fellow Arkansas congressman Don Young presented bill that would legalize marijuana on the federal level. Their proposal Common Sense Cannabis Reform for Veterans, Small Businesses and Medical Professionals Act would deschedule cannabis from the list of controlled substances and provide protections to banks offering services to marijuana-related businesses. The bill would also enable physicians to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to veterans. 

In April 2022, Joyce presented another piece of legislation with congressmen Hakeem Jeffries and Brian Mast, from New York and Florida, respectfully. The measure called the Preparing Regulators Effectively for a Post-Prohibition Adult Use Regulated Environment (PREPARE) Act, aims to better prepare the federal government for the inevitable end to cannabis prohibition. 

“The PREPARE Act will give my colleagues on both sides of the aisle the answers they need to effectively engage on cannabis reform so that Congress can develop a federal regulatory framework that ensures not only a responsible end to prohibition, but also a safe future for our communities.” Joyce said.

In December 2021, Joyce and NY Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D) introduced the bipartisan Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act that would set up a State Expungement Opportunity Grant Program via the DOJ.  

J. B. Pritzker

A billionaire from a wealthy family that owns the Hyatt hotel chain, Jay Robert “J. B.” Pritzker (D) is the 43rd governor of Illinois who has used his political power for cannabis reform. In 2019 he signed the most equity-centric law in the nation to legalize recreational cannabis in the Prairie State, House Bill 1438. This legislation promotes equity and supports communities most affected by the war and drugs. It is also described as a model for cannabis legalization and decriminalization.

"As the first state in the nation to fully legalize adult-use cannabis through the legislative process, Illinois exemplifies the best of democracy: a bipartisan and deep commitment to better the lives of all of our people," Gov. Pritzker stated at the time. "Legalizing adult-use cannabis brings an important and overdue change to our state, and it's the right thing to do. This legislation will clear the cannabis-related records of nonviolent offenders through an efficient combination of automatic expungement, gubernatorial pardon and individual court action.”

This July, J.B. Pritzker confirmed that Illinois has seen a 50% increase in total tax reported from adult-use cannabis, from $297.7 million in the fiscal year 2021 to $445.3 million in the fiscal year 2022.

"Illinois has done more to put justice and equity at the forefront of this industry than any other state in the nation and has worked to ensure that communities hurt by the war on drugs have had the opportunity to participate," Pritzker stated. "The $1.5 billion in sales of adult-use cannabis in Illinois translates into significant tax revenue with a portion of every dollar spent being reinvested in communities that have suffered for decades."

Under the law, 25% of tax revenue collected from marijuana sales is given to back communities that are economically distressed, and have been disproportionately impacted by drug criminalization.

Nikki Fried

Nikki Fried (D) Florida's Commissioner of Agriculture since 2019, has made cannabis reform one of her primary objectives by advocating for the legalization of smokable medical marijuana arguing that the smoking ban is against the “will of the people.”  Gov. Ron DeSantis stopped the state's fight against smokable medical cannabis in 2019.

Among Fried’s first important moves since she became commissioner include establishing a director of cannabis within her department. In 2019, she also helped push for the Legislature to allow farmers to cultivate and sell hemp. 

In April 2022, Fried increased her efforts to help medical marijuana patients by filing a Second Amendment lawsuit against the federal government seeking to allow MMJ patients to buy and own firearms. 

Fried announced the litigation at the Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference in Miami Beach on the 4/20 cannabis holiday.

The lawsuit argues that there is a conflict between state and federal law, and that federal policy requires medical marijuana cardholders to choose between their state constitutional right to medicinal cannabis and their Second Amendment right.

“No patient should have to choose between medicine and employment, a roof over their head, access to capital or their Constitutional rights,” Fried said adding that the country's marijuana policies are “irrational, inconsistent, and incoherent.”

Fried, a medical marijuana cardholder and gun owner, explained that MMJ patients face felony charges if they lie about their marijuana use on a federal firearm application.

In July, Fried a Fried’s lawyers and other plaintiffs argued that under the recent SCOTUS ruling, current federal policy banning those who admit to using marijuana as part of the background check process from buying and possessing firearms, could not be enforced.

In August, the DOJ asked a federal court to dismiss Fried’s lawsuit, arguing it would be too “dangerous to trust regular marijuana users to exercise sound judgment.”

Fried stated that she was disappointed that the DOJ decided to “double down on harmful prohibition policies. DOJ’s argument is as offensive as it is inaccurate." 

“I will never stop looking for outside-the-box ways we can further this fight until we achieve full and equitable legalization,” Fried concluded. 

Nancy Mace

The first woman to graduate from the Corps of Cadets program at The Citadel, Nancy Mace (R), fought her way to Congress and is now a Rep. for  South Carolina. One of her missions on this political journey involves comprehensive cannabis reform.

Mace was open about what connected her to cannabis - a personal trauma she experienced when she was 17. After the unfortunate event, Mace was prescribed antidepressants, but according to her, they only made things worse. 

“I had to get off of them or I was going to kill myself,” she told Benzinga’s Javier Jasse.

She decided to try cannabis, which for a while helped her find solace and sleep better. “It really got me through some tough times.”

Now, Mace wants to make that same benefit legally possible for others. To that end, she is using her political power and influence. In November 2021, she presented the States Reform Act though the measure failed in 12 committees and seven subcommittees without a hearing. In March of this year, she announced her bill will receive a hearing even as a minority member of the chamber.

Mace has noted that many don’t understand that her bill doesn’t actually legalize cannabis at the federal level but rather decriminalizes it while offering full control to each state to regulate or prohibit its use. Mace has said she believes that giving control to states and treating cannabis like alcohol is the only way for marijuana reform to obtain Republican support.

Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference

Come and meet these amazing politicians and friends of the industry in person at the Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference on Sept. 13-14 in Chicago. And stay with us at the historic Palmer House Hotel where you'll rub shoulders with a slew of cannabis industry leaders and innovators at the world’s largest and most successful cannabis investing and finance event.  

Get your tickets HERE and make your hotel reservation HERE.

Photo: Benzinga Edit: Sources: Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons and Harrison Haines via Pexels

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