The momentum behind federal cannabis reform is greater than ever before.
While President Joe Biden has stopped short of supporting federal cannabis legalization, he supports decriminalization and states’ rights to fully legalize. As Senator, Vice President Kamala Harris sponsored a bill to end the federal criminalization of cannabis. And this year, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, along with Senators Ron Wyden and Cory Booker, vowed to introduce legislation that would do just that, and more.
This week, the US House of Representatives passed a bill to expand cannabis industry access to banking. While a version of that bill stalled in the last Senate, Democrats now have a majority. And a new Pew Research Center survey found that only 8% of Americans believe cannabis should remain totally illegal.
Major companies are taking notice. In February, for example, Cannabis Wire was the first news organization to report that Marlboro maker Altria had started to get into cannabis lobbying at the state level, through its registration on cannabis sales in Virginia, and that the company planned to lobby at the federal level. Last month, Altria joined Molson Coors and other mainstream companies, like Brink’s, to launch the national Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education, and Regulation. Then, this month, the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity and the Reason Foundation launched another national group called the Cannabis Freedom Alliance.
While these new groups have yet to register to lobby on cannabis at the federal level, a slew of new entities have, according to a Cannabis Wire analysis of the latest disclosures. This includes, officially, Altria, which is lobbying on “discussions in support of the establishment of a responsible and equitable comprehensive federal regulatory framework for cannabis.”
Two names that stood out in particular: investment company Morgan Stanley, which is lobbying on “cannabis-related banking,” and alcohol giant Diageo North America, which counts among its brands Johnnie Walker, Guinness, Crown Royal, and Smirnoff, lobbying on “marijuana taxes and regulatory issues.”
We also spotted RAI Services Company, which is Reynolds American, Inc. a subsidiary of British American Tobacco, behind brands like Newport and Camel, lobbying on the “Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act.” (The bill, introduced by Schumer in the last Congress, would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act.)
The involvement of tobacco and alcohol companies is an unwelcome development for some cannabis reform advocates.
Following the formation of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education, and Regulation, for example, Drug Policy Alliance executive director Kassandra Frederique put out the following statement: “It is predictable, but reprehensible, that industries that have allowed the arbitrary distinction between licit and illicit drugs to stand for so long now want to end a form of prohibition in order to bolster their bottom line.”
NORML’s executive director Erik Altieri sent an email blast about the Coalition that read, “Winning the battle against corporate influence won’t be easy. These entities have limitless supplies of cash at their disposal. Nonetheless, we’re positive we can overcome them — just like we defeated the ideological prohibitionists of yesteryear.”
Here is the full list of entities that are newly lobbying on cannabis and/or marijuana this year: