What do you get when weed-loving rapper Snoop Dogg, right-wing billionaire Charles Koch and criminal justice reform advocate Weldon Angelos walk into a Zoom room?
The Cannabis Freedom Alliance, a new coalition launching Tuesday that could change the dynamics of the marijuana legalization debate, as first reported by POLITICO.
The organization includes Americans for Prosperity, the political advocacy group founded by the Koch brothers; the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank; marijuana trade organization the Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce; and The Weldon Project, a nonprofit that advocates for the release of individuals incarcerated for marijuana offenses.
The movement for marijuana legalization has long been dominated by left-leaning organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. And despite a handful of congressional Republicans supporting the issue, most legalization proponents in Congressare Democrats.
“We can’t cut with one scissor blade. We need Republicans in order to pass [a legalization bill],” said Angelos, founder of the Weldon Project. Angelos served 13 years of a 55-year sentence for marijuana trafficking charges, and got a full pardon from former President Donald Trump last December.
The background: The idea for the Cannabis Freedom Alliance sprouted from a Zoom call between Angelos, Snoop Dogg and Koch last summer. Koch expressed support for legalizing all drugs, to the surprise of Angelos.
“I had known that his position on drugs was very libertarian,” Angelos said. “I just didn’t know that he supported the legalization of all drugs.”
Angelos connected withthe Koch network for its help in advocating for legalization at the federal level, which he believes is now more important than ever with Democrats in control of Congress. Prior to flipping the Senate, then-MajorityLeader Mitch McConnell was a barrier to any marijuana legislation coming to the floor. But now with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pushing the issue as a priority, a marijuana bill could very well come up for a vote.
“We need 10 to 12 Republican senators,” Angelos said. “With Koch’s influence, I think that’s likely a possibility.”
Americans for Prosperity, founded by the Koch brothers in 2004, is one of the most influential organizations in conservative politics. The group rivals and even eclipses the official GOP in terms of its size, scope and spending.
“Americans for Prosperity is excited to work alongside our partners to bring cannabis businesses into the light, replacing black and gray markets with a free and fair legal framework,” Brent W. Gardner, chief government affairs officer for Americans for Prosperity, said in a statement. “Cannabis commerce will become a way for Americans to lift themselves up, rather than a barrier holding them back.”
The context: Schumer told POLITICO recently that he plans to push a legalization bill with or without President Joe Biden’s blessing.
The House made history last December when it voted on the MORE Act, which would remove federal marijuana. But only five out of more than 200 House Republicans broke with their party to vote for the bill. Six Democrats voted against the bill.
Depending on how many moderate Democrats may defect on the issue, Schumer will need at least ten Republican senators to vote “Yes” to get the 60 votes needed to pass a bill.
The Cannabis Freedom Alliance plans to reach out to libertarian-leaning Republicans like Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Mike Lee (Utah) first, though Angelos believes that voter-approved legalization ballot questions in conservative states like Montana and South Dakota could bring others on board.
What they want: The coalition will advocate for removing penalties for marijuana offenses and ensuring people from the illicit market will be able to transition to a regulated market. The group also wants regulatory frameworks that promote free markets and low tax rates.
“A lot of big cannabis companies are fighting against things like interstate commerce because it doesn’t support their business model,” Angelos said. “That’s another reason why [AFP] is a perfect ally on this because they support free and open markets.”
Many state programs for both medical or adult-use marijuana have license caps that go against a more free-market approach.
“The legalization of cannabis is very consistent with Republican, libertarian and conservative values,” said Randal Meyer, executive director of the Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce, and a former aide to Paul. “Most Republicans understand the free-markets aspects.“
The Kochs also supported the First Step Act, a 2018 bipartisan criminal justice reform bill that included sentencing reform for drug offenders.