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.”

What We're Following See More »
Mueller Reports
1 days ago

"The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has delivered a report on his inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election to Attorney General William P. Barr ... Barr told congressional leaders in a letter late Friday that he may brief them within days on the special counsel’s findings. 'I may be in a position to advise you of the special counsel’s principal conclusions as soon as this weekend,' he wrote in a letter to the leadership of the House and Senate Judiciary committees. It is up to Mr. Barr how much of the report to share with Congress and, by extension, the American public. The House voted unanimously in March on a nonbinding resolution to make public the report’s findings, an indication of the deep support within both parties to air whatever evidence prosecutors uncovered."

Cohen Back on the Hill for More Testimony
2 weeks ago
Pascrell Ready to Demand Trump Taxes
2 weeks ago

"House Democrats plan to formally demand President Donald Trump’s tax returns in about two weeks, a key lawmaker said Tuesday. They intend to seek a decade’s worth of his personal tax returns, though not his business filings, said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee."

Cohen's Attorneys Discussed Pardon with Trump Lawyers
2 weeks ago

"An attorney for Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, raised the possibility of a pardon with attorneys for the president and his company after federal agents raided Mr. Cohen’s properties in April, according to people familiar with the discussions. Conversations among those parties are now being probed by congressional investigators."

Judge Rules GSA Must Turn Over Documents on FBI Relocation
2 weeks ago

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.