Thursday, October 3, 2013
As burning topics go, marijuana's not up there with the government shutdown. Still, it's more likely than ever before to be a topic in the midterm election, after activists in Alaska, Arizona, California and Oregon — states with medical marijuana laws already in place — announced their plans for similar ballot initiatives in 2014 to allow recreational use of the drug.
Voters in Colorado and Washington state decriminalized recreational use in 2012. And the number of states that allow medical use of cannabis is now up to 20. Although federal law prohibits the sale and possession of marijuana, the Obama administration said it will not challenge state laws regulating the drug, which has opened the floodgates for those urging its decriminalization — even though it's still classified as a Schedule I substance, defined as having a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.
In preparation for potential initiatives and pro-marijuana congressional candidates, some organizations are gearing up for the election already, led by the Marijuana Policy Project.
The group — which aims to increase public and congressional support for marijuana policy reform — has been politically active for more than a decade. In the first half of this year, MPP's PAC raised almost $41,000 and spent $20,000, according to Center for Responsive Politics data. At this rate, the PAC is on track — in an off-year — to surpass its 2012 numbers, when it raised about $78,000 and spent almost $52,000.
Campaign contributions from MPP in the last cycle came to about $31,000, with 79 percent of it going to candidates — almost exclusively Democrats. Freshman Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) led the way, receiving $5,000, according to OpenSecrets.org.
MPP spokesman Mason Tvert estimated the PAC will spend about $100,000 by the end of the 2014 election cycle — a number comparable to its 2008 election cycle total when it spent about $118,000, the most since the PAC's existence. "It's also worth noting that our strategy has shifted over the years," Tvert said, "from supporting the few members of Congress who support marijuana policy reform, to focusing on the ever-increasing number of supportive congressional challengers."
But campaign finance isn’t the only arena in which MPP is active; it is also the top organization lobbying on the issue, with more than 72 “marijuana” mentions in filings since 2006.
The group's federal lobbying expenditures peaked in 2007 at $200,000, but has declined over the years. In the first half of 2013, it spent just $10,000, but that doesn't mean its lobbying efforts have decreased. Instead, they have been refocused toward reform at the state legislative level, hoping to move from the ground up. "(This is) an effective way to help create change at the federal level by making marijuana policy relevant to members of congress back home in the district," said Dan Riffle, MPP's director of federal policies.
Federally, MPP's efforts are focused on policy reform and sponsorship of both medical and non-medical marijuana bills that would make federal statutes more compatible with states’ legalization laws.... MPP supports the States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act (H.R. 689), which was introduced in the House earlier this year and would push marijuana under a listing other than Schedule I or Schedule II. It also would amend the Controlled Substances Act and the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to no longer prohibit the possession, production or distribution of marijuana in states where the medical use of cannabis is legal under state law.