This cannabis bill is already sparking up heated debate in Congress

This cannabis bill is already sparking up heated debate in Congress

by Natalie Fertig

Updated February 13, 2019 06:15 PM EST

WASHINGTON (CIRCA) — Pro-cannabis advocates on Wednesday raised doubts about the credibility of the only voice of opposition at a hearing about the SAFE Banking Act, which would make it easier for banks to offer financial services to businesses within the cannabis industry.

Johnathan Talcott is employed as a lawyer at Nelson Mullins, which was hired to represent WeedMaps from September 2017 through December 2018. In the last quarter of 2018, WeedMaps paid Nelson Mullins $50,000 to lobby for its interests within the cannabis industry, including banking legislation, according to data collected by ProPublica.

At the hearing on Capitol Hill where he testified against the passage of the SAFE Banking Act, Talcott was speaking from his position as chairman of Project SAM, an organization that is pro-decriminalization but is firmly opposed to federal legalization.

“Mr. Talcott is a hypocrite of the worst kind," said NORML policy director Justin Strekal.

"I don't take any money from the pot industry," Talcott said in response to the allegations. "In fact, if I really wanted to make a lot of money I wouldn't be standing here right now."

Circa learned of Talcott's connection to WeedMaps through conversations with at least three pro-cannabis advocates or lobbyists present at Wednesday's hearing, and Talcott confirmed his employment at Nelson Mullins. He also appears on the firm's website. WeedMaps confirmed that they previously retained lobbying services through Nelson Mullins, but that their representative, David Quam, left this week for a different firm.

For the advocates who have been fighting Talcott on this issue, though, for some time, the association got them fired up.

"He believes in his position enough to be here and testify in Congress, but he works for a firm whose clients oppose what he's testifying to," said Don Murphy, Director of Federal Policies at the Marijuana Policy Project. "Anybody with a shred of integrity would just leave, it's that simple."

According to Talcott, none of the money Nelson Mullins received from WeedMaps benefited him.

"We have 800 lawyers and a lot of different conflicts of interest," Talcott said, explaining that the executives an Nelson Mullins will divert money that comes from a conflicting entity away from him if he asks. He did not specify if this was something he requested specifically for the funds coming into Nelson Mullins from WeedMaps, which since 2017 totals $310,000.

Talcott added that Project SAM does not accept money from the tobacco, pharmaceutical or the marijuana industries.

Murphy, who says he has previously appeared opposite Talcott on television to discuss cannabis legislation, disagrees that the dispersion of funds within a firm cannot be that clean.

"I mean, you know, who pays for the HVAC and the rent and all the other things?" asked Murphy.

"But you know," he continued, "if this is the best the opposition can do — to get a guy this conflicted to sit in Congress, to stand before Congress, and oppose our position — they don't have much. They didn't bring a doctor, they didn't bring a scientist, they brought a hack."

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