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The Cannabis Industry Is Donating More to Political Campaigns Than Ever Before

The legal weed biz has learned from the alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceutical industries that lobbying and political contributions are the best way to change laws in its favor.

by Chris Moore

As support for cannabis legalization grows across the country, more and more politicians are standing up in favor of cannabis reform. Even old-school politicians like former Speaker of the House John Boehner or current Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, once fervent champions of the War on Drugs, are now advocating for cannabis prohibition to come to an end.

The number of pro-cannabis politicians in office may be soon grow even more, thanks to financial support and lobbying efforts from the cannabis industry itself. A decade ago, it was rare to see politicians willing to accept money from a business dealing in federally-prohibited drugs, but today, many political groups have realized that cannabis reform is a hot-button issue that will bring voters out to the polls.

"I don't think there's any question that in the places where we've seen legalization on the ballot that it has increased interest in the election on the part of young voters in particular, that it's increased turnout in those states," said Guy Cecil, chairman of Priorities USA, an organization that supports Democratic candidates, Marijuana Moment reports.

"That's not the reason somebody should be for it, but I certainly [believe] it's a winner in terms of just the pure politics of it and the election," Cecil continued. "Especially again when you're dealing with a midterm where we've seen participation rates drop pretty steeply."

Although the federal government prohibits as many marijuana-related activities as it possibly can, it does not prevent the cannabis industry from contributing to political campaigns and funds. The state of Illinois attempted to prohibit canna-businesses from making political contributions back in 2013, but a federal judge ruled that this ban was unconstitutional.

In California, the cannabis industry's financial support for local politicians has grown exponentially over the past several years. In 2016, the industry spent nearly $2 million towards getting Proposition 64 passed. Over the past year and a half, the industry donated another $600,000 to local campaigns, more than four times the amount spent during the 2013-4 elections.

"They want to be treated like every other business, and part of that is making campaign contributions so they can get access to politicians and have their voice heard," cannabis attorney Jim Sutton said to CalMatters. "Cannabis has learned from Big Pharma, Big Alcohol, and Big Tobacco that they have to step up in this way," cannabis attorney Hilary Bricken explained. "They would be stupid to not do what's worked for the industries that came before them."

Many of this year's Democratic candidates for Governor of California have been receiving contributions from the cannabis industry. Current Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, widely considered the front-runner in this year's upcoming election, has received nearly half a million dollars from the weed industry. One of his opponents, Treasurer John Chiang, has received at least $10,000 from the industry.

The state's Democratic Party bans contributions from the tobacco and oil industries, but welcomes marijuana money. "I'm sure we will [continue] soliciting from the cannabis industry," Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman told CalMatters. "It's a legal industry in California. It's not one that hurts the environment, it's not undermining our society. So we welcome their dollars."


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Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.



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