Laws related to the marijuana industry are evolving quickly across the country, and savvy marijuana businesses aren’t just standing by and watching. They’re actively getting involved in the legislation process by speaking out, working with lobbying groups, and even making donations to their preferred political candidates. These donations could range from $100 to thousands of dollars, and they could very well make a difference between who takes office in the coming years.
The Preferred Candidate for California Governor
In California, for example, marijuana businesses are donating aggressively to current Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom’s campaign to become the state’s governor in the 2018 election. According to the Los Angeles Times, he has already secured more than $300,000 in donations from marijuana cultivators, processors, and retailers.
In total, individuals and businesses that the Los Angeles Times could identify through public records as being involved in the marijuana industry have donated a total of $323,000 to California gubernatorial candidates leading up to the 2018 election with the vast majority of that money going to Gavin Newsom. Some of Newsom’s contributors include medical cannabis dispensary CannaCruz in Santa Cruz, CA ($5,000), marijuana business investor Valentia Piccinini ($20,000), and employees of marijuana cultivation company TerraTech ($71,000).
There are many more marijuana businesses on the list of Newsom’s donors, and some of them have even hosted or attended expensive fundraising events for him. For example, Indus Holding Company, which makes cannabis confections, hosted a fundraiser in Salinas, CA that brought in at least $50,000 in donations.
And of course, these donation numbers don’t even include the many donations from political action committees (PACs) that marijuana businesses and individuals working in the marijuana industry donate to. Many of these funds go directly to specific candidate’s fundraising efforts. For example, the Coastal Pacific Political Action Committee held a fundraiser in June, and six days later, the PAC donated $50,000 to Newsom’s campaign.
Gavin Newsom isn’t the only candidate getting donations from marijuana businesses, he’s just getting the most in the race for California’s governor. The state’s Treasurer, John Chiang, has also secured donations from the cannabis industry, albeit far less than Newsom. Based on the donations to date, it seems as though Chiang’s efforts to overhaul the marijuana business banking problem aren’t as popular as Newsom’s role as one of the state’s first political supporters of marijuana legalization.
It’s Not Just Happening in California
The marijuana industry has matured to a point where many businesses are generating profits. As a result, they can donate to support political candidates who are friendly to marijuana. These types of donations aren’t a new thing. They’re just becoming more commonplace.
PACs have been accepting donations from marijuana businesses and in turn, making donations to political campaigns for years. Back in 2013, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) endorsed Cory Booker’s election campaign for senator of New Jersey.
In March of this year, a federal judge ruled that an Illinois provision which did not allow marijuana companies to make campaign contributions in the state was unconstitutional. According to the Chicago Tribune, the provision prevented contributions to political committees that were established for the purpose of promoting candidates for public office. In other words, the federal judge’s ruling opens up another way for citizens to donate to politicians in Illinois – through PACs created to support their preferred candidates.
Business and individual donations to marijuana-friendly political candidates have also become standard in Nevada and Colorado. During the 2016 elections, marijuana cultivators, processors, and dispensaries donated $75,000 to Nevada legislators according to the Nevada Independent. Most of those donations went to Democratic candidates ($60,500), and nearly half went to a single candidate – Democratic Sen. Tick Segerblom who has been an advocate of the marijuana industry for years. In total, 32 marijuana businesses donated to his campaign.
Following Segerblom the most donations from marijuana companies went to Sen. Patricia Farley ($10,500), Assemblyman Steve Yeager ($6,750), Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson ($5,000), and Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford ($3,500). Ten other candidates for assemblyman and senator received donations from the marijuana industry ranging from a total of $500 to $1,500.
Marijuana businesses have actively contributed to Colorado political campaigns for years, and many marijuana businesses hold political fundraisers to support their preferred candidates. For example, a fundraiser held by Tripp Keber of Denver, Colorado’s Dixie Elixirs & Edibles to support political candidates generated $40,000 in donations. PBS reported at the time that Colorado’s congressional delegation had received $20,000 during the first nine months of 2014 from marijuana businesses.
Marijuana businesses have been donating to their preferred political candidates for years, but they’re not always doing it through big fundraisers or PACs. Some are more creative. In early 2016, two Oregon marijuana businesses, Foster Buds and Farmer 12, partnered to raise funds for Bernie Sanders’ Presidential campaign. Through their “Burn One for Bernie” campaign, they donated a combined 10% of each pre-rolled joint sale to Sanders’ campaign.
What’s Next for Political Campaign Donations from Marijuana Businesses?
As the marijuana industry continues to grow and more states legalize medical and/or recreational cannabis, laws will continue to evolve. Marijuana businesses should absolutely be concerned about which politicians are making those laws. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that political donations from marijuana businesses will get bigger in the coming years. Savvy marijuana businesses are paying attention and getting involved in an attempt to influence the regulations that could make or break their companies.
Susan Gunelius, Lead Analyst for Cannabiz Media and author of Marijuana Licensing Reference Guide: 2017 Edition, is also President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company offering, copywriting, content marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, and strategic branding services. She spent the first half of her 25-year career directing marketing programs for AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more as well as small businesses around the world. Susan has written 11 marketing-related books, including the highly popular Content Marketing for Dummies, 30-Minute Social Media Marketing, Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps, The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing, and she is a popular marketing and branding keynote speaker. She is also a Certified Career Coach and Founder and Editor in Chief of Women on Business, an award-winning blog for business women. Susan holds a B.S. in marketing and an M.B.A in management and strategy.