Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), an anti-marijuana lobbying group founded by vehement pot prohibitionist Kevin Sabet, requested that they be allowed to keep their funding information a secret. Lobbying groups like SAM are generally exempt from having to disclose their donors under federal and state law, but New York does not provide blanket exemptions from providing this information.
Last month, SAM filed a petition with the New York State Joint Commission On Public Ethics (JCOPE) requesting an exemption from providing information on their donors. "Thrusting our donors into the public spotlight will have an immediate and substantial chilling effect on those that support our purpose," SAM's chief of staff, Luke Dean Niforatos, wrote in the request.
The request claimed that SAM doesn't represent "faceless deep-pocketed corporate interests" in the "alcohol, tobacco, opioid, or the prison industries." Niforatos wrote that “SAM Action's primary source of funding is from individuals and families, many of whom have seen the negative consequences of marijuana first-hand, as well as other supporters who have given to promote responsible public policy with the expectation of privacy under the federal tax code associated with our (social welfare organization) status.”
SAM ramped up its lobbying efforts in New York this year, spending $84,000 during the most recent legislative session to oppose the state's attempt to legalize adult-use this year, which ultimately failed.
Shortly after filing the exemption request, SAM announced it was launching a series that would bring “light to the role marijuana industry donations play in state-level marijuana legalization efforts,” Marijuana Moment reports. The irony of trying to expose other organizations’ donors while keeping its own donors a secret was not lost on the public. Even Alex Berenson, well-known prohibitionist and author of a contentious book linking pot to violence, criticized the group's exemption request. “The rules are the rules,” he tweeted.
On Tuesday, JCOPE denied SAM's request and directed the organization to cough up information on its donors.
"JCOPE's regulations have unfortunately been manipulated to favor corporations and large national advocacy groups who hide their donors through loopholes in state laws," Sabet complained to the Times Union. "Existing state and federal law recognize that disclosure may cause injury to those wishing to participate in debates about our public policy and have a chilling effect on free speech."
SAM is able to appeal the denial, however, and may choose to do so. In the past, the New York Civil Liberties Union, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms and Family Planning Advocates of New York, have all been denied exemptions by JCOPE, but had their denials overturned during an appeal.