Pot Politics And The Power Of The Purse

Politics is the reflex of the business and industrial world.

Emma Goldman

By David Rheins

All of us working in the legal cannabis industry owe a great debt to the selfless sacrifice of the many political activists who came before us.  Generations have stood up, protested, gotten arrested and worse over these many decades in a struggle to end the federal prohibition of our beloved plant.  Without the efforts of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and the grassroots efforts of groups like Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) and Seattle Hempfest, there would be no legal marijuana industry – medical or recreational – in this country, and certainly no Marijuana Business Association (MJBA).

Today, a second phase of the marijuana reform movement is beginning – one propelled by the massive economic and social power of the fastest growing industry in the country, and driven by a new crop of canna-business leaders who are knitting together the fabric of post-prohibition America faster than anyone could have predicted.

The power of the purse magnified by the resonance of digital and social media is normalizing once verboten cannabis use in America. Pot Smoking Presidents, epileptic children and marijuana moms have all contributed to the process. Yesterday’s radical has adopted new rules and morphed into today’s business pioneer. Reflecting this change, NORML has unveiled a business partnership program, Seattle Hempfest has added its own business summit to this year’s venerated music and free speech festival, and even right-wing business magazine Forbes has launched a pot blog.

Prohibition was always political. Pot smokers were – and in many places remain – outlaws.  Yippie! founder Abbie Hoffman once declared that “Every time I smoke pot it is a revolutionary act.”

It wasn’t until the 1990s that medical cannabis and patient’s rights began carrying the heavy water for the reform movement.  Compassion for dying AIDS patients drove the establishment of those first California MMJ regulations, and today children with seizure disorders and soldiers with PTSD continue to sway public opinion.  With nearly half of the United States having some form of medical marijuana law on the books and poll after poll showing the majority of us favor the legalization of cannabis for medical use, it is clear that some sort of national tipping point has been surpassed.  Just last week, a bi-partisan effort from Senators Cory Booker, Rand Paul and Kirsten Gillibrand to reschedule cannabis at the federal level was introduced to Congress.

Still, MMJ patients represent only a fraction of the Americans who use cannabis, and our prisons and unemployment ranks are filled to overflowing with the economic victims of the failed “War on Drugs,” a disproportionate number of whom are black and brown.

Capitalizing on pot’s refurbished image, voter initiatives in four states have made the production and sale of recreational marijuana legal, and several more including massive California and lucrative Nevada are poised to join them in 2016. It doesn’t take a weatherman to know that Federal Prohibition has blown its course.   With $700 million dollars in cannabis sales in Colorado in 2014; another $100 million in sales to date in Washington – a new chapter in American society is being written, and anyone answering the call to become a participant in the new legal cannabis industry is both a pioneer and a revolutionary.

While here in Washington, laws are being hammered out that seek to bring the state’s unregulated medical marijuana system and I-502 recreational marijuana industry together, a larger war for the hearts and minds of the public at large is being waged in the great marketplace of ideas.  Once our drug laws have been rewritten, the long process of the normalization of cannabis and cannabis users into the fabric of the culture and society begins. Each of us involved in the industry serves as an ambassador and a representative of this brave new world, and as such we must comport ourselves with the highest professional standards.

At the MJBA, we believe that through the establishment of a legitimate, profitable regulated industry – one that generates living-wage jobs, ample tax revenues and renewed economic activity – we can reintegrate disenfranchised citizens back into the mainstream workforce and reinvigorate our local communities.

The Marijuana Business Association serves its membership – licensed producers, processors, retailers and the many professional service companies who support them – by providing the digital and physical environments where our emerging business community can gather to share information, network and explore opportunity.  Members rely upon the MJBA for:

  • Business Intelligence – MJBA’s extensive network of targeted web sites, e-letters, publications and MJ Research programs keep track of a dynamic marketplace
  • Community and Networking  – MJBA monthly meetups and our many professional education seminars, Vendor Fairs and Job Fairs across Washington, Colorado and Oregon, bring together the industry’s leading players
  • Commercial Opportunity  – MJBA members rely on member referrals, lead generation and affinity programs to grow their businesses

The MJBA Women’s Alliance provides a unique platform for industry thought leaders to convene around issues particular to women in cannabis.  Past event speakers have included activists LEAP’s Diane Wattles Goldstein, Ladybud’s Diane Fornbacher, SSDP’s Betty Aldworth, Washington Bud Company’s Shawn DeNae and Cannabis Basics’ Ah Warner.  On March 25th, MJBA Women’s Alliance will host, “The Power of Politics” – an evening of insights on how Washington cannabis laws are changing, who’s changing them, and how you can influence the outcome to benefit your business.

These are exciting times. Scary, uncertain, fluid times.  I would encourage you all as you face these unprecedented pressures to remain positive and focused on working collectively to find solutions that work for all of the community.  As Martin Luther King, Jr once taught us: “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”