The entrepreneurs of the young U.S. marijuana industry are taking another step into the mainstream, becoming political donors who use some of their profits to support cannabis-friendly candidates and ballot questions that could bring legal pot to more states.
political activity includes swanky fundraisers at Four Seasons hotels
and art auctions at law firms. And members of Congress who once politely
returned the industry's contribution checks are now keeping them.
Medical marijuana businesses have been giving to
candidates since the late 1990s. With the arrival of recreational pot in
Colorado and Washington, the industry and its political influence are
Pot is now legal for medical or recreational
purposes in 23 states and Washington, D.C. More marijuana measures will
be on the November ballot in Oregon, Florida, Alaska and the nation's
capital, so many contributions are being funneled into those campaigns
and the candidates who support them.
In Washington state, the industry's
contributions are channeled into reforms that include reducing the tax
rate on pot and kicking some marijuana revenue back to cities and
counties to encourage more communities to allow dispensaries, said
dispensary owner John Davis, who also serves as director of the
Coalition for Cannabis Standards and Ethics.
Oregon ballot measure has raised about $2.3 million. A
medical-marijuana question in Florida has attracted nearly $6 million.
And the Alaska campaign has brought in about $850,000. A recreational
pot measure in Washington, D.C., attracted few donations, perhaps
because it appears almost certain to pass.
congressional delegation alone has received some $20,000 this year from
the marijuana industry, according to federal campaign-finance data. The
true figure is probably much higher because many donors do not mention
the drug in campaign-finance disclosures.
The largest federal
spender on marijuana advocacy is the Marijuana Policy Project, which
plans to donate $150,000 to federal candidates this year, up from
$110,000 in 2013. The Drug Policy Alliance and the National Organization
for the Reform of Marijuana Laws have also given directly to federal
candidates, and tax-exempt industry groups such as the National Cannabis
Industry Association can spend an unlimited amount of untracked money.
who used to reject checks from pro-marijuana donors "aren't doing that
anymore," said Ethan Nadelmann, head of the New York-based Drug Policy
Still, the same candidates who cash the checks aren't
always keen to talk about it. About a dozen recipients of marijuana
money declined interview requests or did not return calls from The
A Colorado state lawmaker who accepts marijuana-industry donations conceded thinking twice before taking them.
always worry about what people's perceptions will be," said Rep.
Jonathan Singer, a Democrat who is the only sitting Colorado legislator
who supported legalization. "But it came down to, I'm on record for
where I stood before I ever took a penny from this industry."
Mitchem, a Denver marijuana industry consultant, recalled a fundraiser
earlier this year thrown by a maker of cannabis vaporizer cartridges for
a state legislator. When the company posted photos from the event on
its Facebook page, the lawmaker asked that the images be taken down.
"They just didn't want to be seen. They were still taking the money," said Mitchem, who declined to name the lawmaker.
only member of Congress who responded to the AP was Colorado Democratic
Rep. Jared Polis, a longtime ally of the marijuana industry who has
proposed federal legalization.
"As long as this industry Is
following our state marijuana laws," Polis said in a statement, "their
contributions are the same as those from any other legal donors."
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