Marijuana money

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The big business of retail marijuana is flexing its financial might to influence politics in Colorado, across the country and in our nation’s capital. The industry’s big bucks are approaching a critical mass as more states follow Colorado down the path to legalization — and as Congress eyes what was once unthinkable, ending the federal prohibition on marijuana.

While federal legalization is still on hold — the U.S. House has OK’d it, but it’s iffy in the Senate, and the president opposes legalization — Big Marijuana has been investing in efforts to make it happen in the not-too-distant future. It also spends plenty on sure bets like Colorado — where retail pot is legal but increasingly problematic — to keep pliant politicians friendly.

So, it’s welcome news that a new political force has emerged as a much-needed and long-overdue counterweight.

As reported the other day by our news affiliate Colorado Politics, a Colorado-based, national political action committee has launched to push back at Big Marijuana and battle other drug issues across the country. The super PAC Protect Our Kids touts itself as a “group of parents who are tired of lax drug policies that harm our kids.”

Protect Our Kids will engage as an independent voice in races for legislative and congressional seats nationwide. Its aim will be to take out candidates who support marijuana legalization and bolster candidates opposed to drug use. Protect Our Kids promises to be relentless and focused, not only in its fundraising but also in its spending.

It won’t play favorites with political parties. It is targeting U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace, a Republican member of Congress from South Carolina, in that state’s GOP primary because she supports federal legalization. And the PAC backed a successful primary bid by Colorado’s Democratic state Rep. Yadira Caraveo of Thornton in her run for the newly created 8th Congressional District.

It’s a political stride, and display of clout, that can’t come too soon. As Protect Our Kids helmsman Luke Niforatos details in today’s Perspective section, marijuana money is greasing the wheels of American politics.

“…It is exactly this multibillion-dollar marijuana industry, in tandem with Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol, that is funding the push for legalization and contributing generously to elected officials who are introducing and supporting (federal) legislation,” writes Niforatos, who also serves as executive vice president for Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

“Statewide, the industry has spent more than $7 million in lobbying to reduce or eliminate regulations like the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act,” he writes.

“Nationally, the industry spent more than $8 million on federal lobbying in 2019 alone, engaging top K-street lobbyists such as Colorado-based Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.”

Niforatos points out in his commentary that Colorado’s U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet once opposed legalization — back when he was chief of Denver Public Schools. But today, Niforatos writes, Bennet “has received thousands of dollars from the marijuana industry and now seems more than happy to downplay the negative consequences of legalization here.”

Niforatos told Colorado Politics that the objective of his PAC’s efforts in Colorado, where pot is legal, is to ensure policymakers aren’t “a rubber stamp for the marijuana industry.”

“The goal is to hold them accountable, regulate them tightly and do a better job of protecting our kids,” he said.

Given the toll the drug is taking statewide — from soaring traffic fatalities to declining mental health — it’s a goal we all should share.

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