More than two dozen of the world's largest cannabis companies are coming together to push a unified message on cannabis legalization. The new organization, U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC), will lobby and organize on the state and federal levels to push lawmakers toward ending cannabis prohibition through industry-friendly reforms that promote equity and inclusion, according to USCC interim CEO Steven Hawkins.

"The mission for the U.S. Cannabis Council first and foremost is to address what has been the central problem in terms of moving forward with federal policy ... it has been a very splintered and fractured effort," he said. "And what the U.S. Cannabis Council is aiming to do is really to unify, to bring in as a new organization, everyone under a larger umbrella."

Founding members of the council include major U.S. and Canadian cannabis producers including Acreage Holdings, Canopy Growth, Columbia Care, Cresco Labs, Cronos Group, and Curaleaf, among others. Several ancillary companies joined the effort, as well, like Scotts Miracle-Gro, cannabis delivery service Eaze, and POS software provider Flowhub. Cannabis law firm Vicente Sederberg, activist group Veterans Cannabis Project, and the Marijuana Policy Project, for which Hawkins serves as executive director, also joined the movement.

"We may not get everybody under the tent, but we're not going to be going into this Congress in a situation where 20 to 30 groups are talking to the same lawmakers. It may still be five, but we're going to represent the bulk of a lot of the lobbying efforts under one roof," Hawkins said.

Absent from the roster are high profile activist organizations National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and Drug Policy Alliance (DPA)."While we welcome the support from any groups willing to work to bring about an end to our failed prohibition on marijuana, it is important for NORML's mission to remain an independent voice focused solely on representing the millions of cannabis consumers across the country," NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri wrote in an email.

A DPA spokesperson noted the industry-led nature of USCC and emphasized the group's involvement in several other coalitions.

Historically, much of the progress toward cannabis legalization in the U.S. has occurred on the state level. The U.S. Cannabis Council plans to continue that push by educating local lawmakers, throwing financial backing behind specific ballot initiatives and candidates, and more. Hawkins also said the group will focus on social equity in the cannabis industry by prioritizing several key areas including ending incarceration for cannabis offenses, expunging preexisting convictions, cultivating a diverse and inclusive industry, and reinvesting in communities harmed by cannabis criminalization, which more often than not are communities of color.

Hawkins said the council's top priority, however, is seizing the opportunity provided by unified control over the White House and Congress by a Democratic Party that is unprecedentedly amenable to cannabis reform.

"This is a moment where 68 percent of the American public supports cannabis legalization, where it's clearly been demonstrated that there is support across political lines, and where we have alignment in Congress … we have a vice president who has before been one of the leaders in the Senate for legalization," Hawkins said. "We want to be ready to meet that moment."

Although President Joe Biden historically hasn't been the most supportive of cannabis legalization efforts, Vice President Kamala Harris sponsored a progressive cannabis decriminalization bill, and House Democrats during the 116th United States Congress sent powerful signals that they would advance cannabis reform by passing, among other things, Harris' Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. The U.S. Cannabis Council also sees opportunity in the Senate, where new Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has committed to reform.

"We are committed to working together to put forward and advance comprehensive cannabis reform legislation that will not only turn the page on this sad chapter in American history, but also undo the devastating consequences of these discriminatory policies. The Senate will make consideration of these reforms a priority," Schumer, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a joint statement.

Hawkins remained vague on what bills specifically the council would back, but said the council is looking forward to seeing legislation the senators come up with. The council also supports broader issues from cannabis descheduling from the Controlled Substances Act, to opening access to banking for cannabis businesses, and reinstating the Cole Memo.

"These are all part of the menu, but clearly there's an opportunity in this Congress to pursue ending federal prohibition and that, certainly, is our highest priority," he said.

Unified Democratic control over the government provides cannabis advocates with a rare window of opportunity for reform, but that opportunity is fleeting. Experts anticipate Democrats will lose control over at least one chamber of Congress in 2022 during the midterm elections.

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