It might not take long before the deep pockets of Big Alcohol and Big Tobacco all of a sudden start swaying political opinion.
Marijuana advocates have done their best to keep the industry as pure and untainted by corporate crooks as possible. But like it or not, Big Alcohol and Big Tobacco have infiltrated the scene and are working with federal lawmakers to help shape policy geared toward nationwide marijuana legalization.
Seriously, several heavy hitters from the alcohol and tobacco trade recently launched a federal lobbying group to press the flesh of pot-friendly politicians on Capitol Hill and get marijuana laws passed in their favor. In other words, marijuana has been hijacked.
This new development isn’t sitting well with the national cannabis advocacy group NORML. The organization argues that it has dedicated the past several decades to changing the minds of the American people with respect to marijuana. Their goal for national cannabis reform has always been to give people the freedom to “possess and consume marijuana responsibly without being either criminalized and stigmatized.” NORML has no interest in commercializing the cannabis plant. They claim lobbying groups, like those recently formed, will put corporate interests ahead of the American pot consumer.
“While these industries have been raking in billions of dollars over the past decades, NORML has been fighting for your rights to possess and consume cannabis legally,” wrote NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri. “Now that we have made so much headway, these corporate interests are seeking to swoop in and shape the landscape in a manner that works best for them, not for you.”
But how does the average cannabis consumer feel about it? Is the thought of marijuana being controlled mainly by Big Alcohol and Big Tobacco a concern, or is it no big deal as long as weed goes legal?
NORML recently conducted a survey to get to the bottom of these questions. It turns out that most cannabis consumers aren’t too excited about these alcohol and tobacco corporations taking over the cannabis industry. Around 47 percent of the respondents said it “greatly concerns” them, and they’d like NORML to step in and try to stop them. Meanwhile, 31% said it’s only concerning “when businesses lobby for policies that conflict with consumer issues.”
Twelve percent doesn’t think NORML should waste resources trying to intervene. These people, perhaps naively, believe the “market will sort these issues out on its own.” Another 10% of the respondents think the cannabis “focus should be on policies that impact individuals, not business.”
But is there anything cannabis advocates can do to stop Big Alcohol and Big Tobacco from absorbing the marijuana money train? Probably not. The industry doesn’t have enough clout of its own to shake things up in D.C., and they in no way have the kind of funding available to compete with the alcohol and tobacco trade.
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Marijuana lobby groups only dropped $4 million last year on policy persuasion, while the alcohol and tobacco groups contributed $60 million. The fact that these two business sectors have banded together to ensure marijuana policy is drafted to benefit their businesses is like a bunch of professional MMA fighters showing up at a schoolyard and kicking the crap out of a couple of eighth-graders. It’s not really going to be much of a fight.
Nevertheless, Big Marijuana is still looking to influence Congress. Last month, a marijuana lobbying group called the U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC) was assembled to advance federal cannabis reform. But unlike the group overseen by Big Alcohol and Big Tobacco, the USCC is focused on furthering federal marijuana legalization and social equity. “USCC is a unified voice advocating for the descheduling and legalization of cannabis,” USCC Interim CEO Steven Hawkins, Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project and a founding member of USCC, said in a statement. “Legalization at both the state and federal level must include provisions ensuring social equity and redress for harms caused to communities impacted by cannabis prohibition.”
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Which of these lobbying groups will the U.S. Senate listen to when it comes to passing comprehensive cannabis reform this year? There will likely be a lot of support for any lobbying group pushing social equity. Giving back to communities ravaged by the Drug War is a hot topic right now among cannabis advocates. It’s actually something that the U.S. House addressed last year with the passing of the MORE Act.
However, while pure reform might catch an early lead, it might not take long before the deep pockets of Big Alcohol and Big Tobacco all of a sudden start swaying political opinion. This is America, after all, and money talks. Especially in Congress.