Rob Kampia, Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project, learned an important lesson from Election Day's wins in states that voted on medical and recreational marijuana initiatives: businesses and advocacy groups are stronger together.
To that end, at the Marijuana Business Conference & Expo in Las Vegas, Kampia announced the formation of the MPP Business Council, a body that will allow the private sector play a larger role in helping the MPP change marijuana laws nationwide.
Kampia says that for-profit marijuana businesses "stepped up" their contributions in 2016, especially in Nevada and Arizona. He estimates that businesses in those two states accounted for about two-thirds of the overall contributions to the MPP's legalization efforts.
According to Troy Dayton, the CEO of the Arcview Group, who was also on hand for the announcement, there was a silver lining to legalization's defeat in Arizona. Kampia had earlier chalked up the loss to being outspent by anti-legalization groups, and Dayton said that proved to businesses that fundraising is a crucial to their bottom line. It was, Dayton noted, a "litmus test" for working together.
In Nevada, meanwhile, the state's medical market had yielded a strong group of well-run retailers, but there simply weren't enough patients to keep them going. They were, essentially, relying on the eventual passage of recreational legalization.
If they wanted to survive, they needed Nevada voters to show up and support Question 2. Kampia was blunt: "If you don't give money, you're screwed."
Hence the MPP Business Council. It works like this: In preparation for 2017 and 2018, the MPP wants to increase its lobbying presence and strengthen its grassroots organization - which costs money. Businesses that donate $10k/month or $100k/year to will sit on a permanent council of MPP donors.
In return, according to the press release, the MPP Business Council “will be invited to participate in monthly conference calls with MPP's congressional lobbyists and executive director, as well as receive private information on the likelihood of state-level bills and initiatives passing or failing in future months and years."
Also on hand were two people who could speak to the importance of cooperation between the marijuana industry and business interests.
Adam Eidinger, Director of Social Action for Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, said it made its biggest contribution yet to the MPP during 2016. While Dr. Bronner's is not a marijuana business, they use hemp and its byproducts in some formulas, something that has brought the business into conflict with the DEA.
Dr. Bronner's began actively supporting marijuana legalization in 2010. For Eidinger, the company's advocacy is ultimately an issue of "civil rights" and "moral opposition" to imprisoning people for drug charges. For him, this was a "watershed" election.
"In a low turnout environment," he said, "this issue had strong support".
Meanwhile Adam Bierman, the founder and CEO of MedMen, stressed the "commercial value of cooperation." He emphasized how, in California, the MPP effectively turned a $10-million investment into an $8-billion legal cannabis industry in the face of strong opposition from the pharmaceutical industry and others. He was adamant: "If we gave the MPP 50-million dollars, marijuana would be legal."
Neil Bonner is in Las Vegas covering the Marijuana Business Conference & Expo for Civilized.
Banner image: Fremont Street in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 2012. The second most famous street in the Las Vegas, Fremont dates back to 1905, when Las Vegas was founded. (Jorg Hackemann)