Driving Change: When Philanthropy Becomes Lobbying
Author – Jon Russell
Edited by Noah Persin
Charitable donations and philanthropy have long been a cornerstone of the American tradition; beginning with the Statute of Charitable Uses in 1601 there has been a rich history of supporting our local communities. From local soup kitchens to donating at the checkout counter for needy families, charitable donations have helped many people in need.
In our previous article, “Giving Back” we discussed the differences between charitable donations and philanthropy. Briefly, charity focuses on eliminating the suffering caused by social problems, while philanthropy focuses on eliminating social problems. Philanthropy can be found in many forms: donating funds for a school or hospital wing, planting trees for each purchase or even creating a philanthropic foundation (example; The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation). These philanthropy programs create positive community interaction and generate goodwill.
Philanthropy drives community engagement and goodwill, but what drives change? You can build a hundred hospital wings and plant a million trees, but the reasons those programs were enacted remain and you will have to eventually face the same problems again. We’ve always been told to “put our money where our mouths are”, but policy change is a difficult road and requires special skills to bring about. This is when we begin to look at lobbying.
Philanthropy becomes lobbying when you begin to influence people who make changes. Lobbying is working with lawmakers and policy influencers to bring about social change and further humanitarian efforts. Spending donated funds to convince those in the position to change or rewrite a law is how many organizations work to get a cause or agenda advanced. Coal companies lobby for reduced environmental regulations while environmentalists lobby to increase protections. They’re both sides of the same coin that helps shape the legal landscape of America.
Lobbying for a “Greener” Future
Cannabis reform has been a long road and there have been many players lobbying for the legalization and taxation of cannabis for adult use. To further these efforts a few groups have formed to lobby in Washington D.C. and across the country. The top three of these are: National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA). Let’s take a look at these and how their lobbying efforts have helped cannabis come into the mainstream.
Image Courtesy: The Daily Chronic
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)
NORML founded in 1970 by attorney R. Keith Stroup. It’s mission is to move public opinion sufficiently to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults, and to serve as an advocate for consumers to assure they have access to high quality marijuana that is safe, convenient and affordable. When the Nixon administration put together the Shafer Commission (and promptly ignored their recommendations), NORML took it upon themselves to get the results to all 50 states and filed the first ever lawsuit to reschedule cannabis for medical use. To further political efforts, in 2001 NORML formed the NORML PAC (a political committee organized for the purpose of raising and spending money to help elect candidates and influence policy) so they could begin to donate funds to candidates who supported cannabis legalization and reform efforts. To date, the NORML PAC has donated over $79,000 to cannabis reform efforts across the country.
Marijuana Policy Project (MPP)
When the MPP was founded in 1995, all forms of marijuana were still illegal. The first medical marijuana laws were still a year away and it looked like a long road ahead. They have helped shape the legal landscape for cannabis ever since. Their mission statement is in four parts:
1. Increase public support for non-punitive, non-coercive marijuana policies.
2. Identify and activate supporters of non-punitive, non-coercive marijuana policies.
3. Change state laws to reduce or eliminate penalties for the medical and non-medical use of marijuana.
4. Gain influence in Congress.
They envision a nation where marijuana is legally regulated similarly to alcohol, marijuana education is honest and realistic, and treatment for problem marijuana users is non-coercive and geared toward reducing harm.
MPP has been one of the largest lobbyists for cannabis reform in recent years. They have been diligently campaigning for causes such as the better cannabis education, ending of mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana and to bring about medical or recreational marijuana laws at the state level. In fact, they helped raise almost $500,000 dollars for Ohio’s push for medical marijuana reform. Besides contributions, MPP has spent more than $1 million on lobbying in Washington alone since 2002!
National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA)
Politicians and their constituents are not the only parties who benefit from representation in their governments (both state and federal). Businesses and corporations have their own interests to look out for. The cannabis industry is no different and so the NCIA was formed.
Founded in 2010, the NCIA makes the claim as being the only national trade association advancing the interests of the legitimate and responsible cannabis industry. Their mission is to promote the growth of a responsible and legitimate cannabis industry and work for a favorable social, economic, and legal environment for the industry in the United States. The NCIA is relatively new to the political scene but has contributed $100,000 to the marijuana reform efforts in the United States.
The Other Side of the Coin…..
As previously mentioned, cannabis reform has been a long road and there is still a long ways to go. This is partly due to the lobbying efforts from Alcohol, Prisons and Pharmaceutical companies to block cannabis reform.
Image Courtesy: The National
The alcohol industry has been working very hard to prevent marijuana from being legalized. Many believe that this is due to the misperception that cannabis and alcohol directly compete and a legal cannabis industry would decimate the current alcohol industry. Since 2009 the Beer, Wine and Liquor industry has spent at least $19.5 million EACH YEAR on lobbying efforts. Even though research is now showing that alcohol purchasing rates in state with legal marijuana have remained virtually unchanged, the Alcohol industry still works daily to prevent cannabis reform.
The Industrial Prison Complex
The Private Prison industry is another large opponent to cannabis reform, some (although not verified) say the largest. Almost 700,000 people are arrested for marijuana annually; 90 percent of them simply for possession of the plant. There is a lot of money in keeping cannabis illegal and the prisons aren’t holding back any punches. Since 2008, the Corrections Corporation of America has spent at least $970,000 a year on lobbying against marijuana reform. The prison guards are working just as diligently to prevent legal cannabis. Many prison guards are represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). AFSCME is one of the most politically active labor unions, giving more than $11 million to federal candidates, parties and committees.
Big Pharma – The Pharmaceutical Industry
The last notable player in the fight against cannabis reform is the pharmaceutical industry, A.K.A. “Big Pharma”. The pharmaceutical industry has been a key player in preventing many cannabis laws from being enacted through its lobbying efforts.
Opioid use has been shown to decline in states where medical marijuana programs have been implemented. This has many pharmaceutical businesses worried. One of the largest lobbyists in the pharma industry is Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). PhRMA contributed almost $20 million in 2015 alone to the fight against cannabis legalization efforts.
Driving Social Change
As we’ve seen during our “Philanthropy in the Cannabis Community Series”, charitable and philanthropic contributions are necessary to help catapult the cannabis into the mainstream. The community goodwill and engagement it generates is important for the fledgling industry to grow.
However, to really grow we need to begin to change the political landscape regarding cannabis. Taking that next step from philanthropy to lobbying is how we drive social change and begin to influence our policy makers.
Editor’s Note: If you’re looking for an organization to contribute to please refer to the list below and click on the link(s). GreenSea will be adding new organizations after each article in this series. Thank you for any donations you make, they are much needed (and many are tax deductible).
NORML | Marijuana Policy Project | Law Enforcement Against Prohibition| Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access