Is The Cannabis Industry the New Prohibition Party?
Focusing on the politics of cannabis can cause other issues to be ignored.
The Prohibition Party, founded in 1869 on the single issue of alcohol prohibition, is the oldest still-active third party in the United States (sorry Whig party, no one is interested in powdered wigs anymore). While single-issue parties can be very effective, as evidenced by the passage of the 18th Amendment and the advent of alcohol prohibition, by forcing voters to focus on only one issue, those voters ignore the entirety of the candidates they are voting for.
The cannabis industry has recently fallen victim to some of the same pitfalls of the Prohibition Party, in particular, focusing on a core issue while ignoring others.
Carlos Curbelo – The Importance of Vetting Before Donating
In June, Cannabis Wire reported that “cannabis industry leaders have contributed a total of $69,000” to the hardline conservative political action committee (PAC) What a Country! (WACPAC). WACPAC was formed by Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Tallahassee FL), with the mission of supporting “candidates for U.S. Congress who are committed to reforming America’s immigration laws.” Representative Curbelo went so far as to call support for DACA a “litmus test” for candidates to receive donations. While that may sound good, Cannabis Wire reports that in reality, “most candidates who have received support from WACPAC have staunch anti-immigration views.”
An interesting finding from Cannabis Wire’s investigation was that 75 percent of donors to WACPAC were either cannabis investors or cannabis business owners. The top donors were “executives from major cannabis companies such as MedMen Enterprises, Columbia Care, LivWell, and PalliaTech Inc.” MedMen’s CEO Adam Bierman and MedMen’s political lobbying fund both donated $5,000 to WACPAC, making them one of the largest cannabis donors to the PAC. Bierman also gave $5,400 directly to Representative Curbelo’s re-election.
After the Cannabis Wire piece ran, they were contacted by Daniel Yi, MedMen’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications and Investor Relations. Yi informed them that when MedMen learned that “some of the candidates the PAC has supported in the past had positions on immigration that do not align with MedMen’s values,” they “immediately requested a refund of our contribution.” Yi also made it clear that their support of Representative Curbelo was because of his support for cannabis legalization, and not because of his views on immigration. It is not clear if they were successful in getting their money back, but it is clear that damage to their brand has already been done by the rush to support a pro-cannabis candidate without fully vetting their policies and PAC.
Dana Rohrabacher – A West Coast Politician with Eastern European Ties
Thirty-year career politician California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Newport Beach) is perhaps the best-known cannabis advocate in Congress, who’s namesake amendment, the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment, has been protecting state legal medical cannabis businesses since 2014. Representative Rohrabacher has advocated for a reform to our cannabis laws for even longer, both in Congress and as a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan. Representative Rohrabacher is so close to the cannabis industry that he has even admitted to violating federal law by using medical cannabis while in office.
As is only fitting his long commitment to cannabis reform, Rohrabacher may be receiving more money from the industry than any other politician, reportedly “more than $200,000 in contributions from individuals,” which is nearly “one-fifth of his total donations.” In addition to those individual contributions, Representative Rohrabacher has received $10,800 from Dominion Capital, an investment fund that is heavily invested in the publicly traded cannabis company Terra Tech. Despite his nearly quarter of a million dollars from cannabis companies, Representative Rohrabacher is still hoping for more cannabis donations, and in May he spoke at a meeting of the Association of Cannabis Professionals courting donors.
A caveat emptor to cannabis businesses, while Representative Rohrabacher may have a stellar record on cannabis issues, his political record on other issues has been a mixed bag, with some good buds and some schwag. For an example, look at Russia.
It’s been reported that, in the 1980s, Rohrabacher “briefly took up arms with Afghan freedom fighters battling Soviet occupiers. Later he became a dogged defender of Russia, which put him on the fringe of the Republican Party.” Representative Rohrabacher’s support for Russia was even the subject of a joke made by Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. According to a recording obtained by The Washington Post, Representative McCarthy jested, “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.” Representative Rohrabacher has even been implicated in the Mueller investigation when it was revealed that former Trump campaign aide, Rick Gates, lied about Representative Rohrabacher’s presence at a 2013 meeting with his longtime friend, Paul Manafort. Manafort has since been found guilty of eight counts of financial crimes, but not before giving Rohrabacher “a very modest campaign contribution.”
Other than being uncomfortably close to the Trump-Russia probe, Representative Rohrabacher has made headlines this year for saying that it is OK to discriminate against LGBT individuals who are buying homes. When it comes to abortion, the pro-choice group NARAL gives him a score of 21 percent for 2017, which is actually better than the 0 percent rating they gave him for 2016. In 2015, Representative Rohrabacher went so far as to call Planned Parenthood’s work “an unbelievable holocaust.” On that note, Rohrabacher is also affiliated with the alt-right blogger and Holocaust denier Charles Johnson, who gave the Congressman a $5,400 campaign contribution. The voter education website VoteSmart reports that Rohrabacher received ratings below 20 percent from the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the environmental group the League of Conservation Voters. It isn’t all bad news, as he has consistently received 90 percent+ scores from the National Rifle Association for almost two decades.
Looking Beyond Single-Issue Voting
Notable cannabis investor and attorney, Paul Rosen, a co-founder of the Cronos Group and current CEO of Tidal Royalty Corporation, had some sage advice for cannabis businesses. “If you are going to make a political donation,” said Rosen, “know their whole record so you don’t have to issue an apology.” He also had some tips for voters, “Everyone has issues, as a pioneer in cannabis I am pro-cannabis reform, but for me, a pro-cannabis position is not a reason enough to vote for a politician. If I found out that a politician had views anathema to my views I wouldn’t care if they wanted to legalize cannabis globally.
Rohrabacher and Curbelo are just two of the most high profile examples where cannabis businesses let single issue voting blind them from the bigger picture. Now, as cannabis lobbying money is surging into the coffers of local and state politicians around the country, the trap of single-issue voting is one the cannabis industry and its consumers need to be aware of.
TELL US, is a politician’s stance on cannabis your main priority when voting?