Over the last year, states like Colorado and Washington have waged a highly publicized legislative war with the Justice Department on the question of legalizing marijuana. What has escaped the limelight is the motley coalition of formal and informal lobbyists that is coalescing around the goal of legalization.
The power of this lobby is impossible to ignore. Proponents of Washington State’s Initiative 502, which would legalize the sale of small quantities of marijuana to adults, raised $6.2 million while its opponents raised just under $16,000. In states where legalization efforts failed, proponents still drummed up vast sums of money and managed to outspend opponents.
Here are just a few of the key players in this coalition who have emerged or are emerging as influential lobbyists.
The billionaire hedge-fund manager has been lobbying for legalizing marijuana for years, donating $3 million on legalization initiatives since the 1990s. His position is in line with organizations like the ACLU and NAACP, which claim that marijuana-related convictions reflect racial inequalities in the way US drug policies are enforced. In 2010 he wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal citing the fact that African Americans are no more likely than other Americans to use marijuana but are far more likely to be arrested for possession. He also funds organizations like the Open Society Foundation and New Approach Washington that advocate decriminalizing marijuana.
Vicente Sederberg LLC
Many figures in the medical marijuana industry have been actively hostile to full legalization of marijuana because it threatens their corner on the market. In Maine, an established medical-marijuana lobbying group openly collaborated with opponents of legalization. But this Colorado medical marijuana firm is going against the tide. A team of its experts helped draft the landmark measures Amendment 64 and Initiative 301 that will legalize marijuana use for adults in the Centennial state. Their influence extends beyond state lines — the firm also provided consultation for drafting Massachusetts’ Measure 3, which if passed, would introduce medical marijuana to the state. Christian Sederberg, the point man for the law firm’s drafting efforts, has cited market stability as the main reason for legalizing marijuana. But as the first state to draft semi-comprehensive regulation regarding this industry, Colorado has a major burden. Sederberg and his associates will have to strike a balance in their measures that will allow marijuana production to bloom under generous production caps without spreading product beyond state lines, which would spark the wrath of the DOJ. The firm is dealing without precedents, which means its lobbying and proposed regulations will be viewed by other states as either a role model for legalization or a case study in disastrous drug reform.
The Reverend is still straight edged and said he would not campaign for a marijuana legalization campaigns, but last year he publicly advocated regulating the distributing and use of marijuana “the way we treat the beverage alcohol.” This may seem surprising given Robertson’s track record as a fierce social conservative, but he argues for it on the grounds that criminalizing marijuana has created staggering costs for society and imprisoned thousands of people for a nonviolent offense. Although many Evangelical groups were uncomfortable with Robertson’s remarks, his influence with millions of socially conservative viewers through “The 700 Club” is incalculable. He is poised to be a critical ally to the legalization movement in more conservative states — if he decides to chime in the debate again.
The ArcView Group
Operating through the ArcView Investor Network, this group is one of the first companies to introduce angel investors with companies producing cannabis products in the brand new legalized marijuana industry. In May, the group helped invest several million dollars in companies producing technology like vaporizers and devices to develop cannabis concentrates. Crucially, the group also invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in educational reform groups like Students for Sensible Drug Policy and a pro-legalization PAC run by the Marijuana Policy Group. The ArcView Group was founded in 2010 by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and marijuana advocates Troy Dayton and Steve DeAngelo during California’s abortive attempt at legalization has. It's been one of the major sources of startup revenue for cannabis-related companies. With the potential for marijuana legalization in more and more states, the ArcView Group will most likely attract angels with even deeper pockets as opportunities in a new market crop up.
Drug Policy Alliance (DPA)
The DPA is a strong supporter of legalizing and regulating marijuana for the sake of improving society in the broadest possible sense. Most recently the DPA made a public show of solidarity with NYC Comptroller John Liu, who last week advocated legalizing and regulating marijuana in the state. Liu, who is not seeking reelection, has stated his main goal behind legalization is to use marijuana revenue to cut tuition at state schools. Although his program is too center left to gain serious traction, his report came just days after a NYC judge ordered the termination of the infamous stop-and-frisk policing policy that critics claim disproportionately targeted minorities for marijuana possession. Like the marijuana advocacy group NORML, the DPA has vocalized its support for Liu and condemned stop-and-frisk as a regressive drug policy. Its main role in the coming years will be as a legitimate mouthpiece for the legalization movement and as instrument for drafting progressive policy. It will be especially important as a bridge between powerful constituency groups in New York and California such as organized labor, law enforcement and politicians, and captains of the emerging legal cannabis industry.