Dan Riffle, the federal policy director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) announced in a November email to colleagues that he would be leaving the organization. According to Riffle, “The industry is taking over the legalization movement and I’m not interested in the industry.”
The Marijuana Policy Project is one of the largest national advocacy groups for sensible cannabis legislation. Riffle’s departure says a lot about the current condition of cannabis legalization, an ongoing effort that has only recently graduated from being a grass-roots movement.
The ways in which states are approaching legal cannabis for medical or recreational use are becoming increasingly friendly to the industry, which is being flooded by entrepreneurs and investors from many other consumables markets. Riffle has noticed a disturbing trend in states considering new cannabis legislation based primarily on corporate influence.
Business Guiding Cannabis Legalization
Only a few months ago, Ohio shot down a proposed initiative that would have made recreational cannabis legal in the state. The initiative had $25 million in funding from a select group of sponsors all anticipating access to pitied licensing in what would have been a state-approved monopoly. (Technically, it would have been an oligopoly, but the principle of a small group controlling everything would have most certainly been present).
New York was another state to develop a very limited licensing system, allowing for only five businesses to initially produce and dispense medical cannabis. Unlike Ohio which capped the number of manufacturers and retailers, New York has at least said that more licenses will be considered as the program advances.
The trend however is very apparent. When billionaire Sean Parker (Napster, Facebook) submitted an initiative for recreational cannabis in California earlier this year, everyone gave their support even though the language was still nowhere near perfect. The legalization movement for cannabis has been years in the making. Now that all of the grass-roots fighters are tired, the support of big businesses seems like the perfect boost to carry legal cannabis across the finish line.
Riffle’s Activist Future within the Federal Legislature
Riffle still feels that there is so much that can be accomplished for sensible cannabis policy without relying on financial support from corporate sponsors. As is the case with many industries, those that offer financial support are certainly doing so with the hope of a profitable return.
In regards to his departure, Riffle also said, “I felt for the last few months the industry was kind of dominating the legalization movement’s work in general, and MPP’s specifically… The industry’s goal is to make money, but from a public health perspective, we might have other goals that are at odds with the industry’s goal of making money.”
Riffle is preparing for his new job working for Rep. John Conyers (D-MI.), who is the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. Riffle is clearly very concerned with the safe and responsible legalization of cannabis. Still, it is clear that he feels his efforts will be best spent helping the legislature, rather than working with non-profit organizations willing to take financial guidance from deep pockets.
How Smoke Reports Views the Developing Industry
The Smoke Reports Editorial Board is preparing a series of whitepapers to discuss the formation of the “cannabis industry.” There is so much fragmentation when comparing differences in cannabis legislation by state. This means that eventually, the Federal government will need to address how the industry will ultimately be structured.
Smoke Reports is based in California because it is the longest-standing medical marketplace for cannabis. This also means that it is the most saturated, competitive, and politicized in terms of industry trends. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom recently directed a Blue Ribbon Commission to file an advisory report for future cannabis legislation in California. The suggestions from this report were very clearly taken to heart after the passing of the new California medical regulations for cannabis.
Smoke Reports has been creating software specifically for cannabis since 2008. In this time, we have observed the evolution of legal cannabis through both triumphs and obstacles. The states of Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington all have recreational cannabis laws in place and are finalizing the implementation of their regulatory programs. Yet the combined population of these four states is well under half of the current population of California.
As cannabis shifts to become a legitimate consumables industry, it is unreasonable to think that big business will not be a part of the industry. However, recent initiatives in other states do reveal that large corporate entities are hoping to influence regulations that promote profit over safety.
Here at Smoke Reports, as both members of the industry and of the cannabis community, we want to stress the importance of simply staying informed about cannabis legislation so that we are not governed by rules that are either too strict or too relaxed.
Check out our blog for future examinations of proposed cannabis legislation and related events. For the most up to date info on Smoke Reports, follow us on Twitter @smokereports or like us on our Facebook page.