In One Chart: Marijuana industry’s lobbying hits record as banking bill hangs in the balance

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The cannabis industry has set a fresh record for its annual lobbying spending in Washington, with its outlay of $3.77 million through this year’s third quarter topping 2018’s full-year total of $2.76 million.

The increased spending comes as the industry and its allies go to bat for a bill that would protect financial institutions that work with the marijuana industry.

The sector’s biggest spenders on lobbying so far this year are the Cannabis Trade Federation, with an outlay of $760,500; Curaleaf Holdings Inc. CURLF, +0.00%, with $700,000; the National Cannabis Roundtable, with $445,000; the National Cannabis Industry Association, with $430,000; and Parallel Brands Inc., with $420,000. That’s according to an analysis of lobbying disclosures filed through last week.

To be sure, the sums involved fall short of lobbying spending by bigger Washington players. Facebook Inc. FB, +0.80% alone, for example, has shelled out $12.3 million in the year to date trying to influence Washington.

But the growing outlays underscore how the banking bill, known as the SAFE Banking Act, is important to the cannabis industry. Among the top five spenders, their 2019 disclosures largely show they’ve lobbied the most on that particular bill, which would provide protections to banks and credit unions that serve cannabis companies.

For now, financial institutions face legal problems because marijuana remains illegal on the federal level, even as more states legalize it. Lobbyists have emphasized that many cannabis businesses end up “unbanked” and operating largely in cash, and that makes them targets for robberies and other crimes.

Related: Republicans and Democrats agree that U.S. marijuana laws are a mess

And see: Cannabis Watch — All of MarketWatch’s coverage of cannabis companies

Last month, the Democratic-controlled House voted to pass the SAFE Banking Act, but some analysts have warned that the measure isn’t likely to become law in 2019 as it faces a tough road in the Republican-controlled Senate. While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell discussed potential banking reform with cannabis industry players in Southern California this month, analysts haven’t necessarily turned optimistic on the bill’s prospects.

“It doesn’t show yet that McConnell is willing to allow a bill to get through. I still think it’s unlikely this year,” said Ian Katz, an analyst at Capital Alpha Partners, in a recent email to MarketWatch.

Pot stocks, as tracked by the ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF MJ, -1.61%  , have lost 19% in 2019, while the broad S&P 500 index SPX, +0.56% has gained 21%.

Related: ‘Don’t smoke the Kool-Aid,’ analyst says in sober note on the cannabis sector

Also read: Cannabis producer Hexo shutting down facilities amid deep staff cuts

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