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Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Campaign Reports Show Grassroots Can Trump Big Money

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The story of the “yes” vote on Oklahoma’s medical marijuana ballot measure was one of grassroots versus big money. And in this round, David beat Goliath.

On June 26, Oklahoma voters approved State Question 788 to legalize use, possession and cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes by a sizable margin of 57.9 percent to 43.1 percent.

New campaign finance reports received this week by the Oklahoma Ethics Commission revealed that the two “No” political action committees (PACs) heavily outraised and outspent the two “Yes” PACs.

Supporters took in just $176,577.99 in cash donations, compared to the $1,260,600.00 raised by opponents.

The pro-PACs had a secret weapon: Additional in-kind contributions of $133,684. The main “No” PAC didn’t report a single dollar of in-kind donations, but even counting donated services, supporters had far fewer resources overall.

With 507,582 “yes” votes and 385,176 “no” votes on Election Day, the “Yes” PACs had to raise only 35 cents in cash donations per vote (or 61 cents per vote, if in-kind donations are included). The “No” PACs raised $3.27 per vote, nearly ten times the amount medical cannabis backers had to take in to get their voters to the polls.

This is a sharp contrast to previous marijuana ballot measure campaigns in other states in which supporters have usually heavily outraised and outspent opponents.

This year in Oklahoma, pro-medical-marijuana forces also received far more individual donations, whereas opponents relied on a smaller number of contributions from monied interests.

The main pro-PAC, Vote Yes On 788, registered on December 7, 2017 and got a head-start on fundraising and campaigning, raising $31,279.82 in the first three months of 2018, half of that in in-kind contributions. Their biggest donor by far was New Health Solutions Oklahoma, with a cash infusion of $130,000 and in-kind donations of legal services, office space, t-shirt printing, printing and fundraisers totaling $90,903.

The Drug Policy Reform Network Of Oklahoma donated $300 to the “Yes” PAC in 2018. The remaining donations were all from individuals. In six months, the committee received $43,735 from 181 individual donors, with an average donation of $242. The largest individual donor gave $2,493.

oklahoma yes on 788

Get-the-word-out merch from “Vote Yes on 788” (via yeson788.com)

The “Yes” PAC spent $6,393 in the first three months of 2018 to get out the word about the vote in old-school grassroots efforts including yard signs, flyers, stickers, buttons, shipments to volunteers and a highway sign. From April to the end of June, they spent $165,976 on similar items, and added in professional campaign tactics like surveys, electronic billboards, campaign management, phone banking and radio ads.

The main “No” PAC, SQ 788 Is Not Medical, didn’t even register until May 15, 2018, about 10 weeks before the vote. Their corporate donors contributed $1,181,925 to the losing effort. These included several oil and gas heavy hitters: Newfield Exploration and Devon Energy ($100,000 each), Cimarex Energy Co. ($75,000), ConocoPhillips and Gulfport Energy ($50,000 each), Oge Energy Corp, Chesapeake Energy and Phillips 66 ($25,000 each). Three banks also ponied up: Arvest ($25,000), IBC $20,000) and Bancfirst ($10,000). Communication giant Cox tossed in $25,000.

Non-profit organizations that supported the “No” PAC included the Oklahoma City and Tulsa Chambers of Commerce ($190,000 and $25,000 respectively), the Chickasaw Nation ($100,000) and national prohibitionist organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana ($10,000). The Oklahoma State Medical Association and Hospital Association and also pitched in, to the tune of $75,000 and $25,000, respectively.

Opponents had individual donations from just 14 people totaling $78,550, or an average of $5,611. The largest individual donor, the retired President of Mercedes Benz of Oklahoma, gave $50,000.

The “No” PAC poured more than $100,000 into mailings and over $1 million into media buys of television, print and radio. Given that the media buy included a television ad that said, “State Question 788 is not about medical marijuana… Why could anyone get it without a specific medical condition?” it’s possible that the ad did more to help get out the “Yes” vote from people who support broader reforms. The question did not set limits on physicians as to what qualifying conditions were eligible.

The “Vote Yes on 788” PAC received $35,000 in-kind for web development and social media, and 41,500 people have followed Yes on 788’s Facebook Group.

Neither of the “No” PACs bothered to create a website. SQ 788 Is Not Medical spent $15,000 on social media services, though no Facebook or Twitter accounts seem to exist. The spend included $10,000 to an organization called Student Development Institute, which also runs the Facebook page “Worth the Wait” for an abstinence/chastity ring non-profit.

A small anti-PAC, Oklahomans Against 788, raised $250 in 2018, plus $505.92 in-kind for a P.O. box, copies, office supplies and gas. All of the donations came from the two people who founded the PAC, and all of the expenses went to filing fee to create the PAC, plus bank fees and mileage reimbursement.

Another pro-PAC, Oklahomans For Health SQ 788, registered on November 21, 2017. The group, which helped get the question on the ballot, raised just $250 in 4th quarter 2017 and nothing in 2018.

Following the passage of the ballot measure, its backers were dismayed by the way the Oklahoma State Department of Health took up implementing regulations. The Department initially proposed requiring pharmacists at cannabis dispensaries, banning smokeable products and requiring women patients to take pregnancy tests, which if positive would prevent them from receiving medical cannabis.

Under pressure from supporters, the department last week walked back those restrictions. The director of the Board of Pharmacy was also fired over bribery allegations.

Approval of the medical marijuana ballot initiative marked the second time in recent years that Oklahoma voters surprised state lawmakers and law enforcement by approving a drug policy reform measure. In 2016, they passed state question 780, making possession of any drug a misdemeanor, by a wide margin: 58 percent to 42 percent.

Meanwhile, a group collecting signatures to get state question 797, a full marijuana legalization measure, on the ballot in November says they have reached their goal, though it is unclear for now if a sufficient number of the signatures they have garnered will turn out to be valid.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Polly has been creating print, web and video content for a couple of decades now. Recent roles include serving as writer/producer at The Denver Post's Cannabist vertical, and writing content for cannabis businesses.

Politics

North Dakota Marijuana Activists Turn Hopes To 2020 Ballot Measure Following Legislative Defeat

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Despite the narrow defeat on Wednesday of a bill that would have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, activists in North Dakota say they are looking ahead to 2020, when they’ll try to push for broader cannabis legalization through a ballot measure.

The activist group Legalize ND stated their intentions to take the issue to voters in the upcoming general election in a Facebook post following the legislation’s failure.

“The legislature has proven they have 0 interest in reform, and that they are unwilling to live by their pledge to pass decriminalization as an alternative to full legalization,” the post said.

The legislation, supported by Gov. Doug Burgum (R), would have removed criminal penalties for possession of up to an ounce or two mature plants. The current misdemeanor offense that carries a penalty of 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine would have been replaced with a non-criminal offense that carried a $200 fine. The bill also set new penalties for possession of paraphernalia including pipes, containers or growing tools as a non-criminal offense with a $100 fine.

Instead, members of the House voted the measure down 43-47, with four abstentions.

Activists with Legalize ND and Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, who introduced the failed decriminalization bill, did not return calls from from Marijuana Moment seeking comment.

Meanwhile, the House approved separate legislation Monday that would add new conditions for which residents can use medical cannabis, increase the number of professionals who can recommend its use and expand the allowed methods of consumption. The House also voted to allow cancer patients to have higher amounts of medical marijuana.

North Dakota’s first medical cannabis dispensary is set to open next week in Fargo, the Associated Press reported. Acreage Holdings will open a facility called The Botanist in Bismark.

In 2018, North Dakota voters rejected a marijuana legalization measure, which would have set no limit on the amount of the drug that people could possess or cultivate. Two years earlier, voters approved a separate measure allowing medical cannabis in the state.

North Dakota officials hope to have dispensaries up and running in the state’s eight major cities by fall.

Marijuana Decriminalization Narrowly Rejected By North Dakota Lawmakers

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Marijuana Companies Urged Governor To Ban Cannabis Home Cultivation, Document Shows

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) took marijuana reform supporters by pleasant surprise when he endorsed legalization last year after previously calling cannabis a “gateway drug” that should remain prohibited. But for advocates, there was at least one major disappointment in store when he got around to revealing the details of his plan: the proposal, unveiled as part of his budget last month, would ultimately include a ban on home cultivation of recreational marijuana.

Home growing—seen by many as a commonsense policy that ensures access to cannabis for individuals who can’t afford retail prices, live too far from a dispensary or just want to flex their green thumbs—has been a feature of almost all legal adult-use marijuana systems operating in the U.S., with the exception of Washington State’s. So what’s behind the New York governor’s opposition to letting adults cultivate their own crops?

It could be that Cuomo took a page from the commercial cannabis industry. Literally.

Roughly a month before the governor announced the details of his legalization proposal, a New York-based marijuana business association—led by the executives of the state’s major licensed medical cannabis providers—sent a policy statement to Cuomo’s office in the interest of offering “some thoughts on various issues associated with a transition from medical to adult-use.”

One of those thoughts centered on the businesses’ desire to prevent consumers from growing their own marijuana.

Politico first reported the existence of the document, created by New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association (NYMCIA), in December. This month, Marijuana Moment obtained the full 29-page memo through a state freedom of information law request.

There are some broad recommendations that most legalization supporters would take no issue with, such as encouraging individuals from communities disproportionately impacted by prohibition to participate in the legal industry and leveraging partnerships to expand research into medical cannabis.

But a chapter titled “The Fallacy of Home Grow” makes very specific—and, in the eyes of advocates, misleading—arguments against allowing marijuana cultivation for personal use.

The group recognized that people want home cultivation because of “currently high prices of medical marijuana” or because they see it as an “individual civil liberty.” But according to NYMCIA, home cultivation “creates a significant public safety and black market risk.”

The industry organization listed five claims to support that argument:

1. Home grow will make it impossible for the state to eliminate the black market.

2. Home grow will make it impossible for law enforcement to distinguish between legal and illegal products, thus frustrating enforcement efforts.

3. Home grow will undermine the state’s harm reduction goal of ensuring that cannabis sold in New York State is grown without noxious pesticides or other contaminants.

4. Home grow will undermine the state’s public health interest in ensuring that cannabis sold in New York State is tested, packaged, and and labeled correctly.

5. Home grow will cost the state tax revenue, thus hindering the state’s ability to fund priorities such as drug abuse treatment and community investment.

Per that last point, it’s entirely reasonable to assume that New York state would miss out on some sales tax revenue if residents decided to grow their own plants. But the other side of that dilemma is that it’d likely mean missed profits for cannabis businesses, including those affiliated with NYMCIA.

“From our perspective, it’s really hard to see any real reason—other than individual and corporate greed—to be against home cultivation at this point,” Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview. “There’s not a lot of rational concerns when it comes to allowing a limited amount of plants for an individual to grow at home.”

Melissa Moore, New York deputy state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, also pushed back against NYMCIA’s claim that a home grow option would make eliminating the illicit market “impossible.”

It’s the “fallacy of ‘The Fallacy of Home Grow,'” as she put it. It would make more sense to attribute difficulties reducing illicit market sales to state tax rates on retail cannabis, she said in a phone interview.

“It’s really disingenuous to try to say that it would not be possible to eliminate the illicit market if we allow for home grow. That certainly hasn’t been the experience of other states that allow home grow.”

Moreover, NYMCIA’s position is not consistent with that of other marijuana industry groups such as the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), which argues that allowing home growing can actually benefit businesses.

“NCIA does not oppose limited home cultivation,” Morgan Fox, media relations director at the group, said in an email. “In fact, it can act as an incubator for people to develop skills which can be used in the legal cannabis industry, which benefits businesses as well as individuals looking to enter the market. Much like home brewing has helped spur interest the craft beer market, limited home cannabis cultivation can do the same in legal states.”

Who is involved in NYMCIA and why do they want to ban home cultivation?

Marijuana companies Columbia Care, Etain, PharmaCann, The Botanist and Acreage NY, Vireo Health and MedMen were all listed as members of NYMCIA in the memo to Cuomo’s office. (MedMen later acquired PharmaCann, and more recently, NYMCIA urged MedMen to leave the association amid a controversy over racist remarks allegedly made by the company’s executives).

(A separate controversy previously enveloped Columbia Care, which owns dispensaries and grow facilities in multiple states, after its Massachusetts-based subsidiary, Patriot Care, was discovered to be advocating against letting certain people with past drug convictions work in the legal cannabis industry).

Acreage Holdings, a cannabis firm that Republican former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner joined as a board member, declined to comment for this story through a public relations firm that represents the company.

A MedMen spokesperson said in a statement to Marijuana Moment that it “respects the right of those who choose to cultivate cannabis for their personal use,” but did not respond to specific questions about the company’s involvement in drafting the policy statement that urged New York officials to continue prohibiting such activity.

Jeremy Unruh, director of public and regulatory affairs at PharmaCann, told Marijuana Moment that the document “was our industry association’s first go at formulating some broad policy positions” prior to meeting with the governor’s office and that the company’s “position on home grow is far more nuanced than a simple approve/oppose.”

“Those policy points you have are sound, but our positions have evolved (and will continue to do so) as we’ve had a chance to socialize these concepts” with other stakeholders, Unruh said. He argued that New York has superior quality control standards in place for medical cannabis and that while the company recognizes “the nature and value of civil liberty” of home cultivation, allowing it would pose public health risks.

But ultimately, “Our position is this: We support the governor’s homegrow proposal,” he wrote in an email.

While recommending that lawmakers ban personal cultivation of recreational marijuana, Cuomo did include a home grow option for medical cannabis patients in his budget plan.

(Full disclosure: Several members of the companies involved in NYMCIA support Marijuana Moment through monthly Patreon pledges, or have in the past.)

Cannabis reform advocates aren’t buying NYMCIA’s claims.

It is quite obvious that NYMCIA’s affiliates have a financial stake in the shape of whatever marijuana law eventually emerges from the New York legislature. And their opposition to a home grow option is a point of concern for advocacy groups.

“[T]o advocate against home cultivation given all we know about how it works in practice from the industry side really just is kind of despicable and illustrates their greed, that they’re willing to sacrifice individual freedoms for the slightest increase in their profits,” NORML’s Altieri said.

The association’s recommendation also runs counter to what Marijuana Moment was previously told by the vice president of corporate communications for Vireo Health, Albe Zakes.

Asked about the memo following the initial Politico report that only vaguely described the document, Zakes wrote in an email that “our CEO and COO assured me that we’ve never lobbied against home grow and in fact support home grow as part of larger legislation, as long as it is regulated and controlled in a responsible manner, the same way medical or recreational markets would be, in order to protect consumers.”

(Vireo CEO Aaron Hoffnung signed an Internal Revenue Service financial disclosure form for NYMCIA last year as one of the association’s directors.)

Marijuana Moment sent a follow-up request for comment after obtaining the policy statement through the public records request, but Zakes said the he was unable to reach the company’s executives and so Vireo would have to decline the opportunity for further comment.

Advocates question whether NYMCIA leveraged its influence for the right reasons.

Is the worry really that a home cultivation policy would sustain an illicit market or complicate law enforcement activities in New York? Are concerns about the public health impact genuine? Or is it that cannabis businesses want the entire market to themselves?

We need to make sure that we have a check on the potential greed of the industry that we can already see in these early stages based on this advocacy document,” Altieri said. “We need to make sure that the market in New York not only begins to address all the harms caused by the war on cannabis but also is oriented toward the consumer and not large industry interests.”

Banning home cultivation benefits no one but corporations and large industry groups.”

Despite Cuomo including the home grow ban in his proposal, it seems that advocates may get more time to voice their concerns about the policy. Some leading lawmakers such as Senate President Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D) are increasingly doubtful that marijuana reform will make it into the final state budget, meaning that negotiations on separate legalization legislation could end up resulting in a law that allows consumers to grow their own cannabis.

Marijuana Moment reached out to NYMCIA itself, Cuomo’s office, Etain and Columbia Care for comment, but representatives did not respond to multiple inquiries by the time of publication.

Read the full NYMCIA policy statement, including the section on home cultivation, below: 

New York Medical Cannabis I… by on Scribd

New York City Council Members File A Dozen Marijuana Proposals In One Day

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Marijuana Legalization Bill Approved By Key New Hampshire House Committee

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A New Hampshire House committee approved a bill to legalize and regulate marijuana in the state on Thursday.

The legislation, which would allow adults 21 and older to possess, purchase and gift up to one ounce of cannabis and grow up to six plants (three of which could be mature), cleared the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee in a 10-9 vote.

A governor-appointed commission would be responsible for issuing licenses for marijuana cultivators, product manufacturers, testing facilities and retailers. Possession and home cultivation would be legal 60 days after the bill passes, and the first retail licenses would be issued in November 2020.

The bill also provides for the expungement of prior convictions for cannabis-related offenses that were made legal.

This is the first time that the committee has advanced such legislation, according to the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). Last year, the panel rejected a similar proposal, but the full House voted to overturn that recommendation and then it passed an amended version of the bill that excluded commercial sales. It later died before making its way to the Senate, however.

While some committee members expressed reservations about the health impacts of marijuana and raised doubts about revenue from legal sales, others like Rep. Will Pearson (D) said such concerns are overblown and that the time to legalize “was yesterday—beyond yesterday.”

“We applaud the committee for recognizing that marijuana prohibition is an outdated and increasingly unpopular policy that has failed to accomplish its public health and safety objectives,” Matt Simon, New England political director at MPP, said in a press release. “It’s time for New Hampshire to adopt a more sensible system in which cannabis is legal for adults 21 and older and regulated in order to protect consumers and the public.”

“We are very pleased that the committee tasked with overseeing criminal justice and public safety has recommended the passage of this legislation,” he said. “Passage of this bill would be terrible news for illicit drug dealers and good news for proponents of smarter, more effective drug policies.”

Gov. Chris Sununu (R) opposes legalizing cannabis, but House Speaker Steve Shurtleff has said he believes there are enough votes in his chamber, and perhaps also in the Senate, to override a potential veto.

Meanwhile, marijuana legislation is moving through legislatures all across the U.S.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 700 cannabis bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

We followed more than 900 pieces of cannabis legislation in 2018. Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

During the last week alone, a Vermont Senate committee approved a bill to allow cannabis sales, the West Virginia House passed a piece of marijuana banking legislation and a Missouri House committee cleared a bill to provide for the expungement of certain marijuana convictions. On Wednesday, North Dakota’s House narrowly rejected cannabis decriminalization legislation.

Earlier this month, legislative committees in Hawaii and New Mexico both voted to approve marijuana legalization bills.

Hawaii Lawmakers Unanimously Approve Marijuana Legalization Bill In Committee

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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