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Politics & Government

Cannabis Industry Flexes Its New Political Muscle

201505008_Earl_Blumenauer_AS_01_rqwtt3.jpg
Alan Sylvestre
/
OPB

As the marijuana industry grows around the county, its political clout is growing, too. For members of Congress who are constantly fundraising, the industry offers new, high yield donors. But it also raises questions about the money’s source and what those donors expect in return.

It was a classic political fundraiser -- semi-formal, with chicken, potatoes and salad on the menu.

Three hundred plus donors sipped gin cocktails and Oregon pinots at the Left Bank Annex on Portland's East Side earlier this month.

“I don’t know if giddy is exactly the right word, but I think everyone felt really grown up.”

Amy Margolis is a Portland attorney and founder of the Oregon Cannabis PAC. The marijuana backed political action fund hosted the fundraiser for Oregon’s Democratic Congressman Earl Blumenauer.

“People that I’ve been working with -- in some cases for years dealing with trying to modernize our marijuana laws -- came together and they threw me a little party. It was great fun.”

Fun indeed. The event raised more than $100,000 for Blumenauer.

Margolis say it’s the largest sum ever contributed by the cannabis industry to a politician during a single event.

The pot PAC represents a newly-energized group --- they're members of the cannabis industry, now in an era where their product is legal for recreational use.

“As the marijuana industry scales up I think you’ll see a growing legislative presence.”

Todd Donovan is a political science professor at Western Washington University.

“Right now you’ve seen it go from a small lobby group that was about legalization to a more mature industry that’s affected by state taxes, state regulations, local regulations about where you can open stuff.”

Pot1_fieexx.jpg
Credit Jon Rosman / OPB
/
OPB

Washington state will mark its first year of recreational pot sales at about the same time Oregon gets ready to enter that market on July 1. And although it's a young industry, it has money. So far, Washington's retail marijuana stores have exceeded $230 (UPDATE FIGURE) million in sales.

The industry already has a number of political action committees. But Donovan says he expects there will be more lobbyists targeting both members of Congress and state lawmakers.

According to data analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics, the cannabis industry has donated more than $400,000 to members of Congress and federal candidates since 2002.

“On a nationwide perspective these totals are relatively small.”

Peter Quist is a research director at the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

By comparison, the beer, wine and liquor industry contributed more than $10 million to members of Congress and candidates just in the 2014 election cycle – that’s according to data analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics.

But Quist says the cannabis industry is still relatively new and has only been giving sizable donations for the last few years.

“For what they’ve given in the past, the increase is pretty sizable.”

Back in Oregon, organizers of this month’s Blumenauer fundraiser said the purpose of the gathering was to thank him for his efforts. But it was also an opportunity to showcase what cannabis donors can do for supportive politicians.

“We are willing to come out for you if you if you support us.”

That’s Margolis again, the founder of Oregon Cannabis PAC. As for where the industry’s contribution money came from, she says it’s all above board.

“The voters in Oregon have overwhelmingly supported the adult use market. We’ve had the medical market since 1998 and I don’t see any reason that a legislator from a state that has so overwhelmingly supported this shouldn’t be able to take that money.”

Margolis says right now the industry wants access to banking and a change in federal law to allow businesses selling pot to be eligible for tax exemptions.

And Blumenauer? He seems on board with that.

“They should have a bigger political footprint because it’s insane that the federal government interferes with doing things like having a bank account or being treated fairly in the tax system."

Earlier this year, Blumenauer introduced legislation that would tax and legalize marijuana at the federal level.

I'm Conrad Wilson in Portland

NOTE Version for web available here:

http://www.opb.org/news/article/cannabis-industry-flexes-its-new-political-muscle/

WEB: It was a classic political fundraiser -- semi-formal, with chicken, potatoes and salad on the menu.

The jovial donors sipped gin cocktails and Oregon pinots at the Left Bank Annex on Portland's East Side earlier this month

But the 300 attendees who came to support Oregon’s Democratic Congressman Earl Blumenauer represent a newly-energized group: they're members of the cannabis industry, now in an era where their product is legal for recreational use.

“People that I’ve been working with -- in some cases for years dealing with trying to modernize our marijuana laws -- came together and they threw me a little party,” Blumenauer said. “It was great fun.”

Fun indeed. The June 5th, event raised more than $100,000 for Blumenauer.

The Oregon Cannabis PAC hosted the fundraiser. Its leaders say it’s largest sum ever contributed by the industry to a politician during a single event.

As the marijuana industry grows around the county, its political clout is growing, too. For members of Congress who are constantly fundraising, the industry offers new, high yield donors. But it also raises questions about where the money came from and what those donors expect in return.

“As the marijuana industry scales up you’ll see a growing legislative presence,” said Todd Donovan, a political science professor at Western Washington University. “Right now you’ve seen it go from a small lobby group that was about legalization to a more mature industry that’s affected by state taxes, state regulations, local regulations about where you can open stuff.”

Washington state will mark its first year of recreational pot sales at about the same time as Oregon gets ready to enter that market on July 1. And although it's a young industry, it has money. So far, Washington's retail marijuana stores have exceeded $230 (UPDATE FIGURE) million in sales.

The industry already has a number of political action committees. But Donovan says he expects there will be more lobbyists targeting both members of Congress and state lawmakers.

Since 2002, the cannabis industry has donated more than $400,000 to members of Congress and federal candidates, according to data analyzed by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Responsive Politics and campaign disclosures from industry groups.

During the last decade, the cannabis industry has donated about $440,000 to state-level candidates, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a nonpartisan Helena, Mont. based nonprofit, that tracks the influence of campaign money on state-level elections and policy.

“On a nationwide perspective these totals are relatively small,” said Peter Quist, research director at the Institute.

But, he said, the cannabis industry is still relatively new and has only been giving sizable donations for the last few years.

“For what they’ve given in the past, the increase is pretty sizable,” Quist said.

By comparison, the beer, wine and liquor industry contributed more than $10 million to members of Congress and candidates just in the 2014 election cycle, according to data analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Back in Oregon, organizers of this month’s Blumenauer fundraiser said the purpose of the gathering was to thank him for his efforts. But it was also an opportunity to showcase what cannabis donors can do for supportive politicians.

“We are willing to come out for you if you if you support us,” said Amy Margolis, a Portland attorney and founder of the Oregon Cannabis PAC.

As for where the industry’s contribution money came from, Margolis said it’s all above board.

“The voters in Oregon have overwhelmingly supported the adult use market,” she said. “We’ve had the medical market since 1998 and I don’t see any reason that a legislator from a state that has so overwhelmingly supported this shouldn’t be able to take that money.”

Margolis said right now the industry wants access to banking and a change in federal law to allow businesses selling pot to be eligible for tax exemptions.

And Blumenauer? He seems on board with that.

“They should have a bigger political footprint," Blumenauer said. "Because it’s insane that the federal government interferes with doing things like having a bank account or being treated fairly in the tax system."

Copyright 2015 OPB

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