CALIFORNIA, 20 April, 2015–Money talks, and 2016 electoral season will usher in a new era for the cannabis community. For the first time, deep-pocketed business leaders in the cannabis industry will be active behind the scenes, pouring legal lobbying money into political change that will dramatically expand their customer base.
On Friday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported WeedMaps had contributed $1 million to a campaign committee called Californians for Sensible Reform, which will back what may be the strongest marijuana legalization measure on the 2016 ballot. Yelp-style store locator, WeedMaps will also donate $1 million to the Californians for Sensible Reform PAC, which supports weed-friendly candidates.
“We’re doing it because legal adult use of marijuana is inevitable,” founder Justin Hartfield told The Chronicle, saying that California has always an innovator but is falling behind other states. “We wanted to do it to make a statement that we’re serious about this.”
Hartfield, who established venture capital firm, Emerald Ocean in 2013, has noted that the dynamic has changed. The shift is clearly not enough for his company and other big players seeking to exploit expanding opportunities in the industry. For now, Big Pot seeks to minimize potential legal troubles by investing only in ancillary businesses, while steering clear of companies that actually handle cannabis. A portion of Emerald Ocean’s capital has been earmarked to support a political action committee lobbying for the legalization of marijuana at the federal level, according to a 2013 Huffington Post report. “The business and the politics are essentially intertwined.” Hartfield told HuffPo, “Right now the industry exists basically as a loophole in the law. We need federal marijuana legalization as the ultimate goal. Without that, none of this really takes off.”
By some estimates, the Silicon Valley billionaires now taking a stake in cannabis could pour up to $100 million in lobbying money into legalization leading up to the 2016 election, with California seen as the proverbial “jewel in the crown.”
Change could be welcome news for Coloradans. Since legalization in Colorado, the state has seen an unwelcome influx of Californians renting suburban homes for illegal grow operations. Cannabis community activists in both states are looking for strong ballot initiatives in California, with some describing efforts to date as “underwhelming.” Ballot authors have struggled to unite seasoned activists with donors, labor, and community organizations behind well-crafted measures with a high chance of success. The WeedMaps cash infusion could move the odds of a win in 2016.
A recent survey by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California found that 53 percent of California residents support legalization of recreational cannabis for adults. The market for cannabis was worth an estimated $2.7 billion in 2014. California — where only medical marijuana is legal —accounted for half that figure. The explosion in growth is likely to be massive if legalization transpires, making donations to political campaigns a matter of prudent self-interest for the big boys.