The Political Investment Conundrum


After you, my dear Alphonse.

That, according to an October 7, 2014, webinar, hosted by MJ Freeway and featuring the Marijuana Policy Project’s Executive Director, Rob Kampia, has been the position of many cannabusinesses on contributing to the reform of marijuana laws.

Kampia aired concerns similar to those raised by Ethan Nadelmann, Founder and Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance at the ArcView Investors Chicago Forum in September. Basically, their shared themes are that

  • with a modicum of success, efforts to legalize marijuana may stall because of complacency,
  • the failure of any of the November 4, 2014, ballot initiatives in Alaska, Oregon, DC or Florida might destroy the momentum of legalization. “We have to win in Alaska,” Kampia said, and
  • business investment in political reform is increasingly necessary as personal philanthropy has taken a secondary position. This is especially acute, according to Nadelmann, following the recent deaths of Peter Lewis and John Sperling, two of the deep-pocketed early supporters of legal reform.

In addition, a petition drive to get reform on the ballot in Nevada in 2016 must submit sufficient signatures by November 12, 2014, only a week after Election Day. Failure on this front could also set legalization back in significant ways.

Which businesses have the most immediate stake in election results? Businesses that already hold medical licenses may have the most to gain in the near future, according to Kampia. Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana in some form. That looks like a large pool of potential investors.

What would the investment be used for? The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska needs to raise an immediate $85,000 for paid advertising. In Alaska, as in Oregon and Florida, the contest is essentially a toss-up and the result will come down to voter turnout, especially of young voters. Get-out-the-vote efforts are typically the focus in the last several weeks of a campaign.

Businesses hesitate, though, for a variety of reasons. Some, especially those not already involved with medical marijuana, are uncertain that they will be able to get licenses. Others are still in the startup phase or are focusing on reinvestment and growth. Political contributions may seem speculative in the face of the monumental task of simply staying in business from one quarter to the next.

Alphonse holds the door, but Gaston demurs. Maddeningly, no one moves.

Marketing 101 teaches us that a business that neglects to build a customer base and a brand will fail. Voter turnout in the political arena translates easily into building a customer base in the business world. These are not parallel efforts. With appropriate recognition for valuable support, the lines actually intersect over a relatively short time.

Cannabusinesses might best see political investment in these three states as an investment in establishing a business identity and in building a clientele. It may make sense with a customer base as politically aware as many marijuana consumers are. How long would it take for a customer to walk through the door and say something like, “Oh, I remembered you from Yes on 91”?

It may make particular sense for the marijuana entrepreneur who is already in the medical market and successful enough to consider the need for growth and reinvestment. What could be a better investment than more customers?

Anne Wallace is a New York lawyer who writes extensively on legal and business issues. She also teaches law and business writing at the college and professional level. Anne graduated from Fordham Law School and Wellesley College.

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