The phrase “big spenders” is a relative term here.
The marijuana industry has spent about $2 million so far this year lobbying for federal cannabis reform in Washington DC, and more than half that money has come from individual MJ-related companies.
Two million dollars is mere pocket change for Corporate America. Tobacco products kill more than 480,000 Americans per year, more than all other legal and illegal recreational drugs combined. Tobacco products are generating 10 times as many deaths as the Opioid Crisis. How are these products still even legal?
Answer: Big Tobacco greases a lot of palms.
So far this year (up until July 24, 2019), tobacco companies have dished out more than $13 million in lobbying expenditures. Big Tobacco averages more than $20 million per year of such spending. That’s basically ten times what is being spent by the emerging cannabis industry.
Keep in mind that the tobacco industry is a mature industry. It has been around (and killing people) for well over a century. There is no more “educating” taking place here. Big Tobacco is simply paying (politicians) for a license to kill people.
Cannabis is not only a brand-new industry, but thanks to a century of Prohibition-era anti-cannabis propaganda, there is an enormous need to educate people on this safe/healthy substance. And no one needs more “educating” on cannabis than U.S. politicians.
This begs the question: is (direct) lobbying the most effective use of cannabis industry dollars? A strong argument can be made that the cannabis industry would get much more traction through investing equal sums in public advertising aimed at educating the people about cannabis.
There are several reasons why this may be more productive.
- Cannabis reform has not been led by the politicians. It has been led by the people (with some help from the courts).
- Politicians are people too (it’s easy to forget this). Education-based advertising aimed at the general public will filter up toward government.
- The more familiar that people become with cannabis, the greater the probability that they will become cannabis consumers.
The first cracks in nearly a century of cannabis Prohibition came when (informed) consumers sued our governments, demanding access to this safe, natural medicinal therapy.
Until Illinois legalized cannabis this year – as an initiative of the state government – all other states that have fully legalized cannabis have only done so through voter ballot. The people forcing government to act.
As we have seen in the United States and even Canada (where cannabis is legal nationally), governments have generally been very reluctant partners in legalization.
Cannabis remains extremely over-regulated, despite the strong safety/tolerance profile of the cannabis plant. Cannabinoids, the active ingredients in the cannabis plant, occur naturally in the human body.
They promote human health. They are found naturally in mother’s milk. THC, the one (mildly) psychoactive cannabinoid is non-toxic. No one has ever died from cannabis poisoning.
Cannabis is also grossly over-taxed in most jurisdictions. As the Seed Investor has pointed out previously, there are two enormously important reasons why low/moderate taxation is necessary for the legal cannabis industry.
- To help stamp out the black market.
- To encourage consumers to move away from toxic/addictive alcohol and tobacco products (that kill more than ½ million Americans per year) and toward safe cannabis products.
The question: is direct lobbying of government officials the quickest way to obtain better regulation and more enlightened taxation for the cannabis industry?
To date, governments have shown themselves to be remarkably obstinate with respect to any direct appeals to reason. A century of anti-cannabis biases won’t fade away overnight.
This is another reason why the indirect approach might be more effective. Educate the general public first, and then rely upon grassroots pressure on our political leaders to bring about needed changes.
We’re already seeing how public pressure is causing more and more state governments to focus on social policy issues regarding cannabis legalization.
- Expunging criminal records for cannabis convictions
- Including “social equity” clauses in legalization legislation that offers a helping hand to (in particular) the visible minorities that have been especially persecuted by cannabis convictions
Politicians don’t like acknowledging their mistakes. But as the people finally comprehend the horrible travesty of cannabis Prohibition, they are demanding that the politicians fix these mistakes.
The cannabis industry would certainly benefit from similar public pressure with respect to better regulation and fairer taxation – not to mention legalization in the U.S. at the national level.
Politicians will not only feel the pressure that results from such public education they will see this education-based advertising themselves.
Where do the politicians currently get their ‘information’ about cannabis? From the mainstream media: the source of 100 years of (anti-cannabis) Fake News. And even as Prohibition dies a well-deserved death, the anti-cannabis propaganda from the mainstream media continues.
The cannabis industry cannot rely upon the mainstream media to accurately portray either cannabis or the cannabis industry. It needs to get its message out to the general public directly.
Finally, the more familiar people become with cannabis, the more that consumption rises. Look at Colorado.
Colorado has the world’s most mature (and best regulated) cannabis market. Yet sales are still rising strongly, with new sales records in three of the last four months.
Is direct lobbying of these propaganda-blinded politicians effective? It hasn’t been to date.
You can tell a fool, but you can’t tell him much.
Politicians aren’t leaders. They are followers – of public opinion. That has been the story throughout the entire (new) era of cannabis legalization.
What the cannabis industry needs to be doing today is to be engaging in a robust public education program to bring cannabis facts and cannabis science to the people. Once the people are educated, the politicians will follow (as usual).