Wednesday, June 1, 2016
The question in the title of this post is the headline of this interesting new International Business Times article discussing the state and possible fate of the significant number of marijuana reform initiatives to be appearing on state ballots this fall. Here is how it gets started and additional excerpts from the middle and end of the lengthy piece:
In early May, the national advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project sent out a panicked email titled “Alone, beaten down and incredulous in Boston.” MPP had been working to land a marijuana legalization measure on Massachusetts’ ballot this November, but a recent fundraising event in Boston had drawn just a single attendee. “What’s worrisome isn’t this one bad event, but that it mirrors the contributions and involvement across Massachusetts since the initiative launch,” MPP Executive Director Rob Kampia wrote in the message. “Simply put, the campaign is broke,” he noted. The organization might not have the money to collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot in one of the most liberal states in the U.S.
A lack of fundraising dollars in Massachusetts isn’t the only reason marijuana advocates are beginning to feel nervous. 2016 is a pivotal year for the cannabis movement, with an unprecedented 10 states potentially voting on recreational or medical marijuana reforms in November. Planned are medical marijuana initiatives in Arkansas, Florida, Missouri and Montana, as well as recreational cannabis measures in Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada and California, the last of which would launch a legal cannabis industry in what is the world’s eighth-largest economy. But, according to campaign finance records, the 10 campaigns altogether to date have raised less than $11 million, just slightly more than marijuana advocates amassed in 2014 midterm elections to pass legalization measures in two states, Alaska and Oregon.
While it’s still relatively early in the 2016 campaign calendar, a lot more cash will be needed before November. Representatives of the national advocacy group Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) estimated at a recent webinar that it would likely cost between $40 million and $50 million to win in all 10 states. “There is a little bit of concern among people I have talked to that the movement might be trying to do too much too soon,” said Tom Angell, founder and chairman of the cannabis advocacy group Marijuana Majority, who recently wrote about the issue for Marijuana.com. “There are only so many dollars that can be raised to purchase advertising time and put together get-out-the-vote operations.” It doesn’t help that so far the growing marijuana industry has been reluctant to shoulder much of these campaigns’ costs or that anti-marijuana efforts are gaining traction. This confluence of factors has led some observers to posit that 2016 may not be the watershed year for cannabis legalization that many have predicted. Instead, it could be the year the ascendant cannabis crusade finally faces defeat.
“The marijuana movement is stretched so thin in 2016,” DPA Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann said during a presentation last month at Marijuana Business Daily’s Marijuana Business Conference and Expo in Orlando, Florida. “I think what could happen in 2016 could be a harsh wake-up call.”...
As in years past, the two largest marijuana advocacy groups, DPA and MPP, are dividing their efforts between different reform campaigns. For example, DPA is playing a large role in the big California legalization effort, while MPP is highly involved in recreational marijuana initiatives in Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada (MPP suspended a medical marijuana effort in Ohio last week after legislators passed a medical cannabis law).
While MPP may be working on more concurrent state campaigns than it ever has before, Mason Tvert, the organization’s communications director, insisted it isn’t stretched too thin. “We only get involved in campaigns when we are confident we will be able to run an effective campaign and win,” he said. Still, he added that weighing in on the financial fitness of various political efforts can be a dicey prospect in the middle of campaign season. “If you say you have no money, people aren’t going to donate because they don’t think you have a chance,” he said. “If you say you have money coming out of your ears, they aren’t going to donate either.”...
Meanwhile, marijuana advocates are facing increasingly well-organized and well-funded opposition. In Massachusetts, the anti-marijuana campaign has garnered the support of Governor Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and House Speaker Rovert DeLeo. In California, opponents of legalization are gathering donations from police associations, prison guard groups and the Teamsters union. In Arizona, a conservative fundraising firm announced an anonymous donor had pledged $500,000 as a matching gift for all donations the anti-legalization campaign received during the month of May. In Florida, real estate mogul Mel Sembler has pledged to raise at least $10 million to fight the state’s medical marijuana initiative, $2.5 million more than he raised to defeat a similar effort in 2014. And Smart Approaches to Marijuana, or Project SAM, the most prominent anti-marijuana group nationwide, just announced it has raised $300,000 and formed new state partnerships to fight the various 2016 marijuana initiatives....
As the marijuana industry has flourished, Project SAM founder Kevin Sabet thinks the cannabis movement has been exposed to new lines of attack, such as that legalization is becoming all about the business bottom lines and not about social justice. “They have written these initiatives as corporate free-for-alls,” said Sabet. “The old-school pot legalizers who are not really in this for the money, a lot of them are pretty stunned and not sure what to do this year.”
But Troy Dayton, CEO of cannabis investment network the ArcView Group, disagrees. He said the marijuana industry isn’t very involved in the reform initiatives — and he thinks that’s a problem. “Our opposition likes to say this is ‘Big Marijuana’ trying to pass laws,” he said. “I wish that was the case. At least so far, that hasn’t really happened.” Dayton is concerned that there’s a false sense of security in the marijuana movement. “The media has done a very good job of suggesting the marijuana industry is making money hand over fist, so a lot of philanthropists who otherwise might be backing these issues are thinking, ‘Hey, there is an industry now, they will take this the rest of the way,’” he said. “But that is not really happening to enough of a degree to fundamentally move the needle.” For example, while ArcView’s members have together invested more than $70 million in various marijuana companies since 2010, the investor network has only contributed roughly a million dollars to various legalization initiatives in that same period.
According to Dayton, marijuana businesses are struggling with various industry headaches — such as sky-high tax rates and a lack of banking services — that make it unlikely they have loads of excess funds they can donate to political campaigns. But at this point, Dayton thinks that is no excuse. He believes marijuana activists and industry stakeholders alike need to realize that 2016 is the make-or-break year for cannabis reform. “I am out there pounding the pulpit, telling people, ‘Come on, folks, whether you are on the business side or the social justice side or both, now is the time. Whatever you would normally give, give three times that,’” he said. “If we win most of these initiatives, it’s really lights out on marijuana prohibition. But if we lose a significant portion of them, that could mean a much longer fight to ultimately end this disastrous policy.”