‘The Haymaker’ is Leafly Deputy Editor Bruce Barcott’s opinion column on cannabis politics and culture.
Back in the summer of 2017, I flew to Denver to witness one of the cannabis industry’s first political fundraisers.
By campaign standards it was a cheap ticket: $100 a head to support Rep. Jared Polis, the 420-friendly congressman who wanted to replace Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Glamorous it was not. We sipped cheap wine from plastic cups in the spartan offices of Vicente Sederberg, the legal firm that hadn’t yet grown into the national powerhouse it is today.
Polis drew a packed crowd, but the event felt chummy. Poisoning the punch would have wiped out 90% of Colorado’s legal industry. I remember the Congressman giving a nice speech, and I also recall an air of uncertain naïvete hanging over the evening. Who were we kidding: This guy as governor? We rabble as kingmakers?
In a column that month, I wrote:
Over the past decade, cannabis industry donations have gone mainly to legalization propositions and amendments. Now we’re seeing industry leaders step up to support politicians who’ve supported and defended the industry.
Guess what. Today Jared Polis is the governor of Colorado. Earlier this week, the seed planted 22 months ago bore fruit. Polis signed into law measures legalizing cannabis lounges, delivery services, and out-of-state investment—expansions long sought by local industry leaders. Polis’s predecessor, Hickenlooper, indirectly undermined or directly vetoed those exact measures last year. (And is now running for president.)
Let me be clear. Nobody bought Jared Polis with a hundie that night. He’d been an outspoken supporter of Colorado’s legal industry for many years. This is how politics works. We like your position, you need support, we show you some now, you show us some later. And so the world turns.
Jared Polis Everywhere
It’s not just Colorado. The Jared Polis Experience has been repeated in at least seven other states in the past few weeks:
- In Illinois, 2018-elected Gov. J.B. Pritzker championed adult-use legalization and is expected to sign it into law any day now.
- In Nevada, 2018-elected Gov. Steve Sisolak signed a number of pro-cannabis bills, including a new law that prevents employers from denying a person a job for testing positive for cannabis, which is legal for all adults in his state.
- In New Jersey, 2018-elected Gov. Phil Murphy has expanded the state’s notoriously bad medical marijuana system and is working hard to pass adult-use legalization.
- In California, 2018-elected Gov. Gavin Newsom hasn’t yet passed major legislation, but he basically wrote the state’s adult-use initiative. And he’s replacing Jerry Brown’s I Hate Weed feelings with a make-it-happen attitude.
- In Maine, 2018-elected Gov. Janet Mills is moving quickly to open a workable adult-use industry this year, after predecessor Paul LePage blocked it for years.
- In Kansas, the legislature is seriously considering legalizing medical marijuana, thanks to the strong support of 2018-elected Gov. Laura Kelly. In fucking Kansas.
- In Wisconsin, 2018-elected Gov. Tony Evers has issued an adult-decriminalization proposal that comes close to adult-use legalization.
- In Michigan, 2018-elected Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is implementing the adult-use legalization measure passed by voters. And she’s no longer authorizing the state kidnapping of children based on their parents’ medical marijuana status.
Let me be blunt: the cannabis industry is a hit here in Nevada for all the right reasons— small business creation, state tax revenue, and less stigma for medical users. Huge thank you to the guys at @Leafly for sparking up this conversation about our growing industry! #NVGov https://t.co/UTtDByMTvU
— Steve Sisolak (@SteveSisolak) September 15, 2018
Meet the Govs Who GyShiDo
What a difference two years makes. In June 2017, the industry waited on tenterhooks for President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to lower the boom on state-legal cannabis. It never happened. Sessions whined, hollered, and rescinded the Cole Memo, but in the end he really couldn’t do much.
Pritzker, Sisolak, and Murphy went out of their way to embrace legalization—and won.
Meanwhile, outside the Beltway, a new generation of governors-in-waiting recognized that regulated legalization actually worked. It improved public health and safety, reduced policing costs, added tax revenue, and created jobs. It worked as a campaign issue, too. Pritzker, Sisolak, and Murphy went out of their way to embrace legalization—and won.
In June 2019, we’re watching that new generation of governors actually get shit done. Campaign promises have become actions delivered.
There’s a lesson here for the cannabis industry: Politics matter. Supporting candidates who openly embrace legalization and common-sense regulation really matters.
If you’re in the cannabis industry you’re in politics, like it or not. Whenever I hear a cannabis entrepreneur complain about onerous regulations, I want to tell them: “You do know you’re in charge of that, right? When was the last time you sat down with a state legislator?”
Show Up, Show Up, Show Up
Earlier this year I had coffee with Kris Krane, co-founder of 4Front Ventures, which operates licensed dispensaries in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Massachusetts. Krane knows the first rule of politicking, which is: Show up.
Turn on. Tune in. Show up. Sip a cup of chardonnay and give a Benny to your own local Jared Polis.
When a local town council considers banning dispensaries—more to the point, his dispensary—Krane showers, shaves, and meets the people and the politicos. He lets them see that the person leading the operation is a decent human being, not an imagined monster. He wishes more citizens and colleagues would show up too.
“I generally find that when you talk with the city council members privately, most of them are fine with [allowing a dispensary],” Krane told me. “But they’re really scared of their constituents. The problem is, they generally only hear from the angriest and the loudest constituents—who are not indicative of how most of their constituents feel. But if all they’re hearing from are the people holding torches and pitchforks, they’re going to get scared and fear for their re-election.”
Here’s the reality of local politics, Krane said: “The people who turn up at city council meetings are the people who vote in every municipal election, and especially in every off-year election. So those council members are way more scared of the angry voters, even though they’re not representative of the population in their district.”
So turn on. Tune in. Show up. Sip a cup of cheap chardonnay and give a Benny to your own local Jared Polis. Do it because it’s your job.