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Top Marijuana Advocacy Groups End Merger Talks Despite Fundraising Challenges



Two of the nation’s leading marijuana advocacy groups—NORML and the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP)—have ended talks about a potential merger that was being considered as way to consolidate resources amid a challenging fundraising environment for cannabis reform organizations.

After months of negotiations about possibly joining forces, the boards of the organizations have suspended those discussions, MPP Executive Director Matthew Schweich told Marijuana Moment. NORML’s board also confirmed the news.

CelebStoner first reported earlier on Monday that NORML’s board of directors voted to end the talks with MPP on March 31.

“Discussions between NORML and MPP related to possibly merging have led to a greater understanding between our two organizations and strengthened relationships between our staff,” NORML’s board said in a statement shared with Marijuana Moment. “While the board of directors has decided not to merge the two organizations at this time, it is our hope and expectation that we will continue to work collaboratively going forward in a manner that amplifies our like-minded efforts to end cannabis prohibition.”

Schweich told Marijuana Moment that MPP and NORML “will continue to coordinate efforts as we pursue our shared goal of ending cannabis prohibition in the United States.”

“During my time at MPP, I have worked with NORML in states across the country, most notably with NORML Board Member Rick Steves on many of our successful ballot initiative campaigns,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the next opportunity for our groups to collaborate.”

With support for cannabis advocacy efforts largely drying up from traditional philanthropists as a growing cannabis industry emerges, the groups started having a preliminary discussion about a possible merger last year. This also came as MPP underwent a major restructuring, with the organization ultimately choosing to suspend its ballot campaign arm.

NORML, for its part, has been without an executive director for over a year now, after Erik Altieri left the position in March 2023. MPP’s former executive director Toi Hutchinson stepped down late last year, and Schweich has since filled that role.

MPP was founded in 1995, before any state had even legalized medical cannabis. In the nearly three decades since its founding, the organization has helped put marijuana on the ballot and enacted legalization through diverse legislatures in numerous jurisdictions.

In the early days of MPP, philanthropic donors were key to funding often expensive ballot campaigns. As the group put wins on the board—and businesses emerged in a seemingly lucrative new industry—that philanthropic support started to dwindle.

NORML, one of the most well-recognized cannabis advocacy brands, has also depended on a combination of philanthropic and grassroots support. But that latter category has also proved increasingly tenuous.

While most Americans now live in a state where there’s some form of regulated access to cannabis—often thanks to the work of MPP and other advocacy organizations like NORML—grassroots funding to continue their work is not at a sustainable level. And convincing the everyday marijuana consumer that their small-dollar donations could make the difference for people living under prohibition in other states has been challenging.

The end of merger talks comes at a pivotal time in national cannabis advocacy.

For example, there’s a marijuana scheduling review that’s being completed by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) after it received a recommendation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to move cannabis to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

There’s also a renewed push in Congress to advance a bipartisan marijuana banking reform bill, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and others in leadership characterizing it as a legislative priority for the second half of the two-year session.

When it comes to state campaigns, South Dakota activists led by Schweich are working to collect enough signatures to qualify a legalization initiative for the November ballot. And Florida’s Supreme Court is expected to issue an opinion on Monday that will decide whether legalization makes that state’s ballot this year.

But overall, it’s generally shaping up to be a more muted election year for cannabis reform at the ballot—due in part to the more limited resources but, of course, also because nearly half of the states in the U.S. have already enacted legalization.

In any case, there will continue to be a need for leadership among advocacy groups. But the prospect of a NORML-MPP merger is dead for now, leaving lingering questions about the path forward for reform efforts in an increasingly complex financial climate.

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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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