Meet the Women Pushing Pot in Washington

In making efforts to shape pot policy and put a fresh face on the industry, these women are changing the marijuana game.

Marijuana leaves. 
National Journal
Feb. 12, 2015, 7:42 a.m.

They wer­en’t quite what someone would ima­gine a group of stone­rs to be. And that’s ex­actly what they wanted.

In pant­suits and blo­wouts, blazers and sleek top-knots, 60 or so mem­bers of Wo­men Grow, a newly launched na­tion­al net­work of fe­male marijuana en­tre­pren­eurs, gathered at the Na­tion­al Press Club on Thursday morn­ing for a press con­fer­ence ahead of a two-day lob­by­ing tour of Cap­it­ol Hill. There wasn’t a Bob Mar­ley T-shirt in sight.

Hail­ing from across the coun­try, the wo­men came to Wash­ing­ton to lobby for spe­cif­ic policy is­sues: tax re­form and ac­cess to bank­ing—tack­ling what they con­sider two cru­cial obstacles to the leg­al can­nabis in­dustry in the states that al­low for it. But they also made the trip to make the case to law­makers, face to face, that pot ad­voc­ates are more than a ste­reo­type.

“We’re small-busi­ness own­ers com­mit­ted to re­pla­cing the crim­in­al mar­ket with a well­ness-fo­cused in­dustry that provides safe and con­sist­ent products,” said Wo­men Grow cofounder and Ex­ec­ut­ive Dir­ect­or Jazmin Hupp. “We’re not ask­ing for spe­cial treat­ment.”

One spe­cif­ic por­tion of the tax code, Sec­tion 280E, pre­vents traf­fick­ers deal­ing in con­trolled sub­stances from writ­ing off many busi­ness ex­penses. Be­cause pot is il­leg­al on the fed­er­al level, small busi­nesses deal­ing with it even in states where it’s been leg­al­ized have to pay taxes on their en­tire rev­en­ue—not just their profit—and they end up pay­ing up to 90 per­cent of their in­come in taxes.

“It’s ab­so­lutely crip­pling to busi­ness that are try­ing to in­vest in their loc­al eco­nom­ies, try­ing to cre­ate jobs, pay their work­ers more, in­vest in be­ne­fits for their work­ers. All of this eco­nom­ic be­ne­fit that could be go­ing to a loc­al com­munity is in­stead be­ing sucked away to Wash­ing­ton,” said Taylor West, the deputy dir­ect­or of the Na­tion­al Can­nabis In­dustry As­so­ci­ation (and a former Na­tion­al Journ­al com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or). “And it par­tic­u­larly af­fects the busi­nesses that are most try­ing to do it the right way. These are busi­nesses that are fil­ing fed­er­al tax re­turns, they are try­ing to be re­spons­ible mem­bers of their com­munity, and the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is pen­al­iz­ing them for it.”

When it comes to bank­ing, many fin­an­cial in­sti­tu­tions are of­ten hes­it­ant to work with busi­nesses deal­ing in a fed­er­ally il­leg­al sub­stance, even in Col­or­ado or Wash­ing­ton state, where pot is leg­al. While this is gen­er­ally a good prac­tice, Hupp told Na­tion­al Journ­al—“I’m happy if our loc­al heroin deal­er doesn’t have ac­cess to bank­ing”—it hampers pot busi­nesses that have bank ac­counts routinely closed and have to op­er­ate with ac­tu­al bags of cash.

It’s not only in­con­veni­ent, West said, it’s a safety con­cern. A busi­ness that’s forced to deal with cash is “a sit­ting duck for rob­ber­ies, for oth­er vi­ol­ent crime. We have em­ploy­ers who lit­er­ally send mul­tiple em­ploy­ees out at the same time car­ry­ing match­ing shop­ping bags, one of which has the cash in it, and the oth­ers are de­coys,” she said.

Bills deal­ing with those two policy obstacles were in­tro­duced in the last Con­gress without suc­cess. But Hupp said Wo­men Grow isn’t de­terred: They’re hop­ing to push law­makers to sup­port them once they’re in­tro­duced in the new ses­sion.

Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., a marijuana ad­voc­ate in Con­gress, said at the press con­fer­ence he plans to re­in­tro­duce his Small Busi­ness Tax Equity Act, which grants marijuana-fo­cused busi­nesses in states where pot is leg­al an ex­cep­tion to Sec­tion 280E, al­low­ing them to write off busi­ness-re­lated ex­penses.

“We have hun­dreds of leg­al marijuana busi­nesses in this coun­try who are op­er­at­ing in shackles,” he said. “These are two bot­tom line, com­mon­sense items that every­body on Cap­it­ol Hill should sym­path­ize with, re­gard­less of how they feel about the use of marijuana.”

As for wo­men, spe­cific­ally, it’s cru­cial for them to get in on the pot in­dustry as it gets off the ground, Hupp said: “A new mult­i­bil­lion-dol­lar in­dustry does not come along every day.” She and oth­er Wo­men Grow mem­bers cite the early-2000’s tech boom as a missed op­por­tun­ity for fe­male en­tre­pren­eurs.

“Wo­men are un­der­rep­res­en­ted in en­tre­pren­eur­i­al-type ven­tures,” Al­lis­on Ire­ton, an Ann Ar­bor, Mich.-based law­yer and a Wo­men Grow mem­ber, told Na­tion­al Journ­al. “The last really big boom that we had was the tech­no­logy boom, which still, no­tori­ously, is com­pletely dom­in­ated by men. Here we have an­oth­er huge shift, and an op­por­tun­ity. The num­bers don’t lie: It’s a bil­lion-dol­lar in­dustry. And for wo­men to come in and be stake­hold­ers is im­port­ant, be­cause usu­ally these kinds of op­por­tun­it­ies are dom­in­ated by men.”

By meet­ing law­makers and their staff, Hupp said, the Wo­men Grow rep­res­ent­at­ives hope to re­buff ste­reo­types about people in the pot in­dustry.

“There’s a per­cep­tion about can­nabis con­sumers, the lazy stoner-slack­ers in the base­ment, and can­nabis busi­ness own­ers, that these are former drug-deal­ers,” Hupp told Na­tion­al Journal. “But when you ac­tu­ally meet these wo­men, most of them come from—they had a land­scap­ing busi­ness be­fore this, or an ac­count­ing busi­ness, or a bakery be­fore this.”

Megan Stone, a Phoenix-based in­teri­or de­sign­er for marijuana busi­nesses, told Na­tion­al Journ­al the pre­vail­ing im­age of pot­heads just isn’t true on the pro­fes­sion­al level. She wants to talk to her rep­res­ent­at­ive, she said, to show that “we’re prob­ably a lot more like them than they thought we were.”

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