In the heart of D.C., pot industry pleads its case

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The government should recognize the cannabis industry as a legitimate American industry and stop putting roadblocks in the way of a legal medical cannabis market projected at a total $1.7 billion in 2011, leaders of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) told a Washington briefing Wednesday.

“It is time for the federal government to take this industry seriously,” said Steve Fox, NCIA director of public affairs. “[The government has] blocked research at every step. [Medical marijuana] should be recognized as medicine already, and it is a crime that it isn’t.”

In a sign of the new respectability of the issue, Rep. Jared Polis, Colorado Democrat, was among several industry supporters in attendance at a NCIA news conference held at the National Press Club. Mr. Polis said he and other cannabis industry supporters in Congress are in the process of preparing legislation in the weeks to come that deal with the banking and tax code issues affecting growers and distributors.

Several panelists, many directly involved in the cannabis industry cited specifically the IRS audits such as the one at Harborside Health Center in Oakland, Calif. where their accounts have been frozen.

“Harborside is not a drug trafficking organization, we are a community service organization,” said Steve DeAngelo, the center’s executive director. “Standards that were intended for street dealers of harmful drugs should not be applied to those easing the suffering of seriously ill patients.”

While there is for states and the federal government to regulate abuses of medical marijuana, advocates said the government should take an overall approach of trying to help the industry expand. Mr. Fox said medical marijuana could develop into a multibillion-dollar industry creating tens of thousands of jobs.

“The truth here is that the industry is creating jobs, generating tax revenue and providing a product to patients that is far less harmful than many pharmaceutical products out there, and it is just time the government treats it like a true American business,” he said.

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