Cannabis business interests in Texas are trying to make a late push to unseat Rep. Pete Sessions, one of the biggest targets of Democrats nationally, and a bitter foe of pro-cannabis advocates.
But the group won’t have the resources they expected after a fundraising push promised by Rob Kampia, the former head of Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), one of the nation’s largest and oldest pro-legalization groups, fell flat.
The Texas Cannabis Industry Association push comes as a Super PAC, Texans Removing Outdated and Unresponsive Politicians, founded by Kampia, has collected just $1,000, according to campaign filings. It’s a far cry from the $500,000 cannabis proponents hoped they would have to use against Sessions going into the quickly-approaching midterm election. Polls have Sessions and Democrat Colin Allred in a tight race.
Kampia, who founded MPP in the 90s and is one of the cannabis industry’s most well-known activists, told Politico in March: “I can safely say we’ll be spending $500,000 on this singular congressional race.” The story was picked up by other national media outlets.
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As the powerful chairman of the US House Rules Committee, Sessions hasn’t allowed cannabis-related bills to come up for a vote — which means the cannabis-related measures haven’t been tested in a meaningful way since Sessions took the chairman’s job in 2012, a period when the national dialogue and state-led initiatives around cannabis have propelled the issue.
A TCIA statement sent to Cannabis Wire Tuesday calls Sessions’ record on cannabis and other issues “old-fashioned bigotry,” and is part of an awareness campaign that the industry group is planning in the last weeks of the campaign, along with digital ads and organizing volunteers to knock on doors to increase voter turnout.
Patrick Moran, a TCIA board member who is leading the charge on the campaign to unseat Sessions, said he and others thought Kampia would deliver more money to make the cannabis issue a bigger one in the general election.
“He was Babe Ruth, he pointed at the fence,” Moran told Cannabis Wire Tuesday, of Kampia’s media attention and fundraising promise. “He asked me to help him raise money and I pointed him to a whole group of our CEO friends. He didn’t close with any of them. He flaked out on getting it done. I like Rob, but it is absolute bullshit if he’s taking all this press and he’s doing nothing.”
Moran declined to say how much his group was spending on the race.
Kampia responded by telling Cannabis Wire: “If the issue is we had hopes and dreams and they’re not panning out the way we wanted, that’s my autobiography,” he said. “I would love it if I could just raise the money and hand it off to Patrick.”
Most of Kampia’s efforts, he said, are centered around advocating and raising funds for his organization, the Marijuana Leadership Campaign; its affiliated PAC has raised about $2,500 so far, according to the FEC, and Kampia’s state-level Texas Medical Marijuana PAC has yet to report any filings. Kampia is working to expand the state’s medical cannabis program, which he told Cannabis Wire was “intentionally made to be broken” because it offers a restrictive CBD-only program with three shops and is only available to those with seizure disorders. Kampia and other advocates also want to do away with Texas’s criminal penalties for possession. The Texas legislature reconvenes in January.
Kampia said that he prioritized raising money for the statewide campaign over the Sessions race in part because voters don’t vote against a candidate solely based on their stance on cannabis. “Raising money for something that has never been done before for this issue, it’s extremely difficult,” he told Cannabis Wire. “Everyone agrees with the idea. [Sessions] last name sells itself. It’s purely just a matter of: how important is it to a marijuana business person to un-elect one member of Congress who doesn’t live near them?”
He also said: “I could raise the money that’s needed. I could do it if I was going to work myself to the bone again, but that’s why I left MPP. I don’t want to work 80 hours per week. It’s just difficult to tackle two major projects.”
Moran said he knows that those in Sessions’ north Dallas district won’t vote for his Democratic opponent, Allred, a civil rights lawyer and former Obama administration official, solely on the cannabis issue. That’s why his group is messaging around Sessions’ civil rights record and tying the cannabis issue in with it.
Black people are more than three times as likely to be arrested for cannabis possession as white people, despite similar use rates — something Moran said should push those who don’t typically vote to go to the polls.
“This corrupt white guy is taking advantage of African American people,” Moran said, of Sessions.
A Sessions spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday night.