By Marguerite Arnold
Denver’s Colorado Convention Center has seen some interesting events of late, where pot and politics, while even if not on the front of the agenda, have mixed in some interesting ways. At the end of June, the center hosted both the National Cannabis Industry Association’s Cannabis Business Summit & Expo and, on the same day, a private fundraiser for pro-pot presidential candidate and current Republican junior senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul.
The association, if not proximity, of the two events comes as no surprise to those in the industry or those serious about reform.
As the state-by-state battle for marijuana legalization rages across the United States, Paul has been consistently one of the most serious and committed federal reformers, no matter his broader philosophies. As a result, his appeal within the marijuana business vertical is also something that should not be discounted by any assuming that the coming election cycle will be a Bush-Clinton “three-peat.”
The marijuana vote and marijuana dollars are as yet an uncounted and untested national voice that may decide to assert itself next year amidst failure to agree on other burning issues during a presidential race. In at least three states and possibly more, Paul is suddenly associated with a hot ticket voter referendum issue with full recreational legalization state votes looming in at least two more large and influential states—California being one of them.
Ohio, depending on the success of the legislature to undercut ResponsibleOhio’s legalization effort heading towards the ballot this year, may also be on the 2016 list of states lining up to legalize marijuana in a presidential election. This starts to fill in the state map with a rather green tinge in a way that also gives a very strange advantage to Paul from the starting gate.
Furthermore, Paul’s background, long considered “ideologically inconsistent” by detractors on both the left and the right, has at least a two-note direct chord of resonance with the legal marijuana industry that is pretty basic. Not only is he on the side of greater reform, although current legislation he has introduced in the Senate contents itself with the “radical” idea of cross-border sales of hemp, he is also a radical critic of the federal banking system.
Here he finds many friends within the marijuana industry who still struggle with banking issues, even if they have managed to establish bank accounts. The level of scrutiny, and therefore expense and legal hassles associated with it, have created natural allies between Paul and many in the marijuana industry on this front.
On all matters fiscal, the industry does tend to lean toward Paul for important reasons. Paul’s ideas about a high tax burden on both individuals and businesses are the reason he is a tea party favorite, and right now there is at least one state that may swing toward, or radically against, Paul on just this issue.
In Washington state, the widely reported “consolidation” of state taxes on the marijuana industry is actually the removal of all taxes from the business community. Recreational users, and until they are exempted medical THC users, now face a whopping 37% sales tax at the register. While not heralded as such beyond certain Republican circles nationally, this is actually also a victory for an idea straight out of “mainstream” tea party state political ideology right now—and Paul is just the national standard bearer.
The idea is an application of the concept of a straight, across-the-board 25% tax cut for all businesses, not just of the marijuana kind; it was originally the brainchild of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback in a state where the public schools closed early this year because of his draconian cuts. Even Brownback did not achieve his ultimate tax victory in-state however. The idea wafted west instead where it was bizarrely applied to all state businesses within just one vertical—the marijuana business.
As a result, however, Washington state is where this demented concept has now landed, to the consternation of many advocates, if not yet the business community. For now, businesses in Washington are suddenly cleared of the responsibility of paying all state taxes, which is clearly unsustainable in the face of both further state if not federal reform. That said, they also face high licensing fees and the lack of ability to take federal deductions still clouds the industry’s future here. There will be many who support Paul just because of this. It may be in fact that Paul picks up support from Clinton in states like Washington, California and even Nevada where such tensions remain unaddressed by the other candidates.
As of yet this kind of analysis, both about the impact of state and marijuana politics on the presidential race, has been slow in coming. In part it is unclear how much weight “pot politics” will actually have on a mainstream national presidential election. It may prove to be influential in a tight race, but how much it will serve to differentiate Paul from Jeb Bush in the Republican primaries, or Hillary Clinton in a general election, is unanalyzed at this point. It is also precisely the kind of fight that Paul does well in because the questions are basic, legalization or not; the answers seem simple, yes or no; and the goalposts are easy to move if not on the march already.
For this very reason, the issues that swirl in many state debates around marijuana, including legalization itself and some of the broader more basic topics like banking reform, are Paul’s bread and butter. Or, as of last week, in a $2,700 per head fundraising event in Denver, the first time industry funds have been used to at least partially fund a mainstream presidential campaign.