What will Federal Cannabis reform look like? Ask the NCIA lead lobbyist. Michael Correia

Jimmy Young (00:00):

Hi everybody. I'm Jimmy Young from pro cannabis media, and this is The Green Rush, the business of cannabis live on the Pro Cannabis Media, social media networks. I'm joined every Friday afternoon at this time by David Rabinovitz from Canna Venture and from MassCann there's David waving to everybody. That's nice. I'm so happy to be joined right off the top by Michael Correia, who is the lead lobbyist, I guess? Is that okay to call you the lead lobbyist, as opposed to the director of government relations for the NCIA?

Michael Correia (00:35):

You can call me whatever you want but lead lobbyist works.

Jimmy Young (00:38):

Okay. Lead lobbyist. So in your lead lobbyists world you had a very cool meeting a week ago today with the majority leader of the US Senate Chuck Schumer from New York. How cool was that meeting and what was the atmosphere in it?

Michael Correia (00:55):

So one, I think it was last Wednesday or Thursday. They had done a press release and they had sent a press release and there was Chuck Schumer Corey Booker and Ron Wyden had sent a press release to say, Hey, they were working together or thinking about doing some comprehensive legislation. And we'd been hearing that from some offices. And then it came out that, Hey, they were going to be doing a zoom call, would I like to be part of it. And it was great because for the most part, there were about 25 people on, and it was mostly on the criminal justice, social justice aspect of marijuana, justice coalition. A lot of the people who are working we were on there representing the industry, but there was, there's only, I think one other industry, it was really about.

Jimmy Young (01:48):

Why they think the best shot of getting a bill, a cannabis reform bill through Congress has to be, you have to lead with social justice. Is that accurate? You think?

Michael Correia (01:58):

So one that's exactly what Chuck Schumer said. He said this word twice, and that was forget about it If it's not, if it's just a cannabis legalization bill, he said it twice. I quoted it. I wrote it down. And that if this is not just a clean descheduling bill, this has to address the criminal justice aspect of to, to a right, to write some of these wrongs that have happened over the past 50 plus years. And so they understand that and that's going to be an important issue and important driver. This is not just uh, and you saw this during December when the MORE was when the house was voting on the MORE act. And that was that they didn't, they never viewed it as a cannabis legalization bill. They viewed it as a criminal justice reform bill and cannabis legalization. There's part of the bigger picture of all the things they need to address. And Senator Schumer was reiterating the importance that has on this.

Jimmy Young (03:03):

David, you got something I bet you do.

David Rabinovitz (03:06):

I'm fascinated by this because this is something I didn't I didn't catch during my reading this week.

Jimmy Young (03:14):

You know, it's led a lot of the cannabis media newsletters that have been out there as I was telling Michael, before we went on. Every time I turned up, opened up another newsletter Michael Correia from the NCIA said, or Morgan Fox got some equal time to this week too, which I thought was nice. So it doesn't surprise me that this is what's going on because I remember when I read Bruce Barcott’s book, Wed the People, the editor from Leafly and how the double date that he had with his friend, they explained to him that this wasn't a drug issue anymore, this truly was a civil rights issue. And, and I think that has stuck with me. And of course, as I continued to follow and listened to all the goings on, on the floor in Washington DC and what you're up against I'm guessing this is what politics is all about. I've always tried to avoid politics as much as possible in my life now I'm right in the middle of it. And now I'm involved with an industry that it seems like the cannabis plant has really become almost like the number one issue in politics. It's tied to so many things it's tied to banking. It's tied to civil rights. It's tied to drug enforcement, law enforcement.

Michael Correia (04:29):

I don't care, taxation revenue, so many things that it touches.

Jimmy Young (04:33):

Right. And again and again, that's another reason why we do what we do, because it is a fascinating time to be talking about this subject. From your perspective, you know, how divisive the Senate is along party lines. How do you structure your strategy when it comes to perhaps swaying some of the Republicans to come over to the side, or at least appeal to their populous of how popular this is and why they should be supporting whether it is social justice or de scheduling, how do you go about your strategy there? How do you pick?

Michael Correia (05:12):

A couple of things, and you mentioned politics and the old adage about not watching the sausage being made. And what goes on in DC is a lot of sausage making. And I'll be honest with you. All I know is politics. I was a political science major. I got out of college. I've been working in politics. That's my whole existence. Like my reality is not based in the real world, the real world of business and running businesses. Like a lot of you guys, and I understand politics. And you mentioned cannabis, like you could sort of break it into three components. There's the decriminalization aspect. Just stop arresting people. Okay. That's one section. You see a lot of States going forward to that. Then there is the tax regulate component. Like what are we doing to have a regulated industry, to get the illicit market coming out, tax it, regulate it and go from there.

But the final thing is how do we address all the wrongs that have happened over the past 50 years? And that's all tied in sort of along the spectrum. Yeah. It's easy. Just stop arresting people. They could do that tomorrow. It's a big thing. But the other thing is, think about how many people's lives were ruined over these past 50 years because of this. And now someone gets to jump in and make a bunch of money off this. So it is, you just can't look at it as one section of the other. You have to look at it holistically. So that's one thing. And the other thing I look at, I tend to be a realist and it's not what Michael Correia wants is not what NCIA wants. What matters is, I'm going to point this way cause that's where the Capital is two blocks from us, even though it's behind the barbed wire fence, which really frustrates me is, is what the Capital, what can we get 218 representatives to agree on 60 senators to agree on and get on the president's desk and sign.

And the house Democrats are a lot further along and more progressive on this issue than moderate Democrats, moderate Republicans, the Republican party, especially senators. And so, Chuck Schumer said, and Senator Schumer, you know, I don't know him personally, so I'm not going to call him Chuck Schumer. Senator Schumer said, this is going to be a priority. This is something they want to do. They know where elections go. They know there's an election in two years and they know that their time leading DC could be two years. So they're looking at that as a window and it's going to be a priority. And he said, once we get the votes, we're going to do this and we're going to do it right. But with that being said, you do need 60 senators to get something done like this. Well is someone like a Joe Manchin, he's a Democrat from West Virginia, is he going to be okay with something like this?

They only have 50 Democrats, you lose one or two Democrats. Now you need a dozen Republicans. And so are a dozen Republicans going to be there. And if they are there, how far along are they going to be? And when I mentioned that whole decriminalize versus tax regulate versus addressing it, like how, where are they on that spectrum? Because yeah, maybe you could decriminalize cannabis now across America. Maybe you could deschedule cannabis now, but is there the 60 votes to address a lot of the harms that have caused and, get to a place where Senator Booker is and Senator Schumer is. And a lot of the American public is right, but our policymakers, especially Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats are they there? That's what I'm here to figure out. And that's what I'm trying to do to see.

But, I'm not going to predict what's going to happen in the next six months, 18 months, but I will say this, I have never been more optimistic in my eight years than I have been. You would not believe how much energy I have when I wake up every morning, because for the first time, in my eight years, I actually know that if we do something, something positive can happen. And previously for the past few years, it was always Mitch McConnell saying, no, no, no. So we could do something in the House. And that was fine and it'd be historic, but it would always die right there. Even before then we couldn't even do anything in the house. And it was just getting more co-sponsors building up support, being a positive, a positive voice for the industry. But now to know that, listen, if we can give something to Senator Schumer, he will put it on the Senate floor and they will vote on it and get it to the President. We now, the hard work begins, but we have light at the end of the tunnel to shoot for. And that's what makes me very optimistic.

Jimmy Young (09:56):

That's great. When we last talk, you talked about low-hanging fruit. And I think during one of the quotes I read this week, I saw that same quote and I was like, Hey, that's consistent. The safe banking act seems to be the one that both sides of the aisle can agree on, and both have, I would think interests to passing this, to giving access to banks for the cannabis industry, that plus the de scheduling of it, which would technically decriminalize the plant. Those two alone, if that's all you get, isn't that a big win?

Michael Correia (10:33):

So the realist in me says, yes, anything we can get, and I love sports analogies, to move the chains. Do you sit back and wait for a home run, a three run home run, or do you get a couple singles and get it? So anything that advances cannabis reform I'm supportive of. And if in two years from now we get safe and that's it, it's better than we were before. If we get safe and a deschedule bill, it's better than we were before. And so I'm optimistic and that’s what I want, but there is a large amount of energy on like house Democrats were guests to Democrats, social justice fighters, people on criminal justice reform, civil rights that want to address all these issues. They want to go for the home run and it's meeting somewhere in there of the striving for the great, and then being realistic and accepting, accepting what Congress is willing to do.

That luckily I'm not running for office and I don't have to make that decision. All I can do is build a case and build support, and educate the public because I guarantee you, the public is supportive of this. The public is they're pulling, but you know, cannabis, it's, it's widely supported, but people aren't going to, you're not going to get a hundred thousand protesters in the street on cannabis reform. You're not going to get a bunch of people donating and being politically active, but it's something to get that grassroots motivated and get people excited and get fundraising. And to lift that up and explain to a, someone like a Joe Manchin in West Virginia, why this is a good issue. You have legalization in South Dakota or ballot issues that pass in South Dakota. You have a high ranking Senate Republican John Thune.

Who's there, get to him and say, voters of South Dakota think this is very important. This is why you need to do. It's building those cases on an individual basis to get these people to move. But I go like, where's the temperature where's the reality of what we can get. I use the low hanging fruit SAFE is ready to go. I would love nothing more than they pass SAFE in the next couple of months, and then move on to the complex issue and spend the next year on marijuana legalization MORE, or what version of tax and regulate they can come up with. To me, that's logic, but, Congress never deals in reality or logic. And so it just something, we just have to manage and it's, it is a little different, the priorities right now priority one is getting the vaccines out to people, making sure vaccines are out to people.

Priority two is Congress is thinking about a pandemic funding bill, get some cash and people saying, is there a debating that and in priority three right now, the Senate is in the process of this trial with former president Trump and a lot of energy and bandwidth at a Congress. So yes, it is a priority, but the priority could be two months from now, three months from now where they start getting onto it. And so there's other things besides cannabis that are really important to the American people and policy makers.

Jimmy Young (13:52):

And yet a school that I've taught at, Emerson College ran a poll this week that showed that the right beyond those two issues. You mentioned that second impeachment trial and the COVID relief act, and most people in this poll believe that cannabis reform should be more important than climate change, than the minimum wage debate. So, you may be on double deck now, I guess Michael would be, you know, another sports analogy there, but at least you're starting to hear people want to do something. My fear, you mentioned South Dakota. I bet you know what's going on at the state level there with the governor and the lawsuit. And this is what bothers me for years the ballot box had been King, as far as letting the people who vote, dictate what they thought would be good, a good change, whether it's a state amendment to a constitution or a, or a movement, whatever social justice is out there.

And cannabis has always driven people to the polls. Now States are using that ballot box and, Idaho trying to eliminate the ballot box as a tool for democracy really, really bothers me. I feel threatened a lot as an American that this and cannabis right in the middle of it. I mean, isn't it, and Oh, by the way, we also have that little insurrection that was going on a few weeks ago, too. I mean, I'm more scared about being an American in 2021 that I have been in any time. I'd like to see the elected officials, listen to the people that put them there. That is what a democracy is.

Michael Correia (15:36):

Yeah. You bring up a lot of good points and my view and all my years of politics as if the public really wants something, eventually they're going to get it. Now, it could be slow. It could take five years, a year, five years, 10 years, 25 years, but they're going to get there because that's what the public wants. Now what's happening in South Dakota is wrong, but it's a political decision. And I hope the voters of South Dakota hold people accountable. And it listen, if that's what the governor wants, and that's what policy makers want run on that, tell the public and say, this is what I want. And then see where the voters go. You know, and in Idaho, it's the same thing, but you've seen poll after poll, after poll election, after election, after election, the supportive of this is 60 to 80 plus percent, depending on, you know, how you ask where it's at.

You saw this in Oklahoma where 56 plus percent voted for cannabis, like two years ago, you saw Mississippi just did a medical marijuana and got 60 plus percent. A couple of years ago in Florida, it was 70 plus percent. So if I'm a politician and I started thinking, wow, 70% of my voters want something, I should probably come around. Now, there are principles. You people have, their principles are going to run it. That's great. But I have talked to a lot of Republicans and their view has been, listen, I am personally not supportive of this, but I see where my voters are going and they represent their state. And that's like the least you would expect from a person that listen, whether you support cannabis or not, your voters are, and this is time to come around to where they're at. And like I said, it may slow up progress in South Dakota or Idaho or some other States, but I know eventually, people are, you're going to see South Dakota is going to be surrounded, all the neighbors and all the neighbors around Idaho.

And my view is, okay, great, Idaho, you do that. Everyone's going to Montana, Washington, Oregon, everywhere else to buy their cannabis. And all those tax dollars are going to get lost to go to those other States. And eventually they're going to say, wow, we were losing out. And just recently Colorado showing some data and hundreds of millions of dollars that are coming in that are able to fund, you know, the taxes that are able to fund some of these issues. And other States are looking at bringing in cannabis just so they can cut their income taxes. These debates are policy issues, and I want them having those debates.

Jimmy Young (18:09):

Fantastic. David, you got anything before we go to a break and you're good.

David Rabinovitz (18:13):

I got something. So, Michael talk to us a little bit about Idaho, the legislature up there, the Senate is trying to make it so they can't legalize marijuana, right? Yeah. And they passed it by one vote. They were surrounded by States that have legalized in some manner or another, which all that means that if they fully make it, that you can't legalize it, those people keep going over the border, but it still has to get by the house. And then it has to go in 2022 in front of the people.

Michael Correia (18:44):

Yes. So, here's my point on that and right when that happened, someone sent me the new story and I go, I mean, yeah, sure. But this has to go in front of the voters and, do we really think that, and here's the thing, I'm a believer in democracy and I'm a believer in what the voters do. And if Idaho voters don't want it, then they don't get it, give them a chance to do it. I think Idaho policymakers would be a little surprised of the results if they put it out there. And I think it would be a great test run and listen, this buys them what, 18 months, two years. And then, and then they put it on the ballot. The voters say no, and then they bring it back up on a ballot initiative or go from there.

So it may delay it, but the voters are still there and listen, hopefully voters are smart. They'll start voting out some of these people that have these positions that are wrong on whatever, whatever issue they're there for, but on cannabis is one big one. And Jimmy, you mentioned the partisan divide. Cannabis is the one, I hate to say it as a one great unifier. We will have the most extreme right-wingers and the extreme progressive lefties on the middle centrist and everything, the whole spectrum when it comes to supporting our issues co-sponsors and other things. And I think, there, this town is very divided, but that is one thing that seems to get people to sit around the table and talk about,

Jimmy Young (20:10):

Pass a joint. Oh, no, I didn't say that. But, you know, we kid about that and yet I really do believe that God put this plant on the earth thousands of years ago so that people could use it as a healing device, not just for what may you ail you and the dozen different diagnoses or two dozen diagnoses out there, but also just to have people connect, it's a connecting medicine for humanity. And I'm glad to hear that. They're actually, by the way, would love to see some kind of a sesh in Congress where you've got Republicans and Democrats actually talking about this openly. I'm fascinated by the fact that we're in 2021 and that cannabis itself is part of the whole policy of government. Just because I've lived long enough to live through the sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties, and the two thousands and here it is 20 years into the 21st century.

And we're finally getting back to where we were a hundred years ago when doctors, US doctors wrote 5 million prescriptions for cannabis and the 1920s, and I love using that stat because people go, Whoa, really? I go, yeah, really? You wonder if, let's just say the if we didn't prohibit it in 1937 would we have as many cases of epilepsy or cancer or all these ills? I mean, it's just incredible to me. And then the conspiracy person in me being starts thinking about, geez, did big pharma drive all this? Are you concerned about, if we do go finally legal, that big pharma will control the whole industry?

Michael Correia (22:01):

Well, I mean, I'm not concerned. I am worried that, it's not worried. I want the day after legalization, we do, like you sent in saying for all these years, we've been fighting for all these years and then legalization happens and we go, wow, I'm not comfortable with that. It's something I didn't want, or I don't recognize. And let's be honest, no one wants legalization. And then the day after they have to go to their pharmacist to get some synthesized drug or something to treat it. And, we, NCIA’s view is free the plant. It's free to plat, descheduled as bill, but to think that this is going to be a commodity like tomatoes, that's not going to happen. We need to somehow treat this, create a regulatory structure, do something because it is a drug.

It is a drug and it's something we have to watch. But I look at this, I see the parallels with alcohol. You can brew beer in your own house, anyone can brew beer in their house. You can go down to a liquor store or a store and buy beer and you can go to a bar and consumer beer. There's that sort of freedom around it. I want the same thing and I want, I want the plant free, but at the same time, I want the science. And if there's pharma out there that says, Oh man, we've synthesized this, this portion, this cannabinoid or something addresses this issue, this is wonderful. Market it, sell it, do whatever. It just, I don't want it at the expense of freeing the plants and use the science, do whatever you can on other things, as long as that happens, I'm happy, but yeah, to agree. I'm not seeing any energy that way, but I could see that happening. I don't want to go in that direction where we free the plant. And all of a sudden it's locked, backed up behind a pharmacy.

Jimmy Young (23:54):

Right. I get you. I'm all for that. And I think freedom will prevail and the right will happen. One last question, before I let you go. And we've completely blown off our show at this point. Anyway, as far as the format goes we missed 420 and Lord knows it's funny at 420. I liked that time, but I do want to ask one more thing. So when I sat with Steve de Angelo a year ago in Jamaica, and he explained to me that the executive of the government can call the Department of Justice and make an administrative or an executive decision of some kind to deschedule the plant. If you find things stalling amongst fellow legislators, for whatever reason, and you can kind of say, look, maybe, would the president, would Joe Biden be in a position to just say, look, let's deschedule it. And then the Congress opens up the banks, and then we'll like you say, take a step back and then roll out a full legalization program that would be controlled by a new body, or maybe the alcoholic beverage commission or whatever. Do you think that scenario could happen?

Michael Correia (25:01):

So, one, the president doesn't have power to snap their fingers and legalize cannabis, but they have the authority to direct the administration to start the process of findings and what it would take to de schedule the bill, which would start the process and then eventually lead to the de scheduling of cannabis or rescheduling of cannabis. Congress could do it. When they ask Obama that he had the power to do that. But he said, this is an important decision and I want Congress to do it. Right or wrong. He can respect what he said. So I could see something. The vice-president is Kamala Harris, she was a supporter of the, a co-sponsor of the More act. She's from California. She understands the nuances of the issue and industry. And I could see if Congress doesn't do anything over the next two years. Maybe there's some momentum to maybe do something administratively, start that process. That's something they definitely could do. And that's something, we want to educate as many of these nominees and appointees who are going to fill up our government. I'm understanding candidates and what they can do administratively to make this a lot easier. So, yes, it's possible.

Jimmy Young (26:16):

Well, we want your job to be a little easier, Michael, because we know for the most part, you do work your Fanny off. And we, we the people out here who support the NCIA and also the cause, support you. And we want to wish you the best in the future. At least the atmosphere has changed a little bit over the last few weeks down there, hasn't it?

Michael Correia (26:37):

Yeah, definitely. And like I said, I've gotten a lot busier, but I'm definitely excited and energized of what the next year or two is going to play out.

Jimmy Young (26:47):

All right. Well, Michael Correia from the NCIA. Thank you so much for joining us on this Friday afternoon. We always look forward to talking with you.