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The Marijuana Lobbying Two Step

It's a tired dance indeed.

When it comes to discussing marijuana legislation, it seems politicians have an inability to speak with coherence. It's a matter of two steps forward, then three back, as if performing a Do-Si-Do. Regardless, it's clear that the issue is on the minds of constituents everywhere. It used to be that politicians could side-step the topic. Increasingly, however, such avoidance isn't working. As more states move toward legalization, members of Congress are being asked to take sides. The results are enough to make us cringe.

While politicians are reluctant to come out of the marijuana closet with a full endorsement of decriminalization, lobbyists are trying to help moderates do so with minimal risk to political capital. Although the subject isn't exactly taboo, there are political divides that make the issue a sort of political litmus test. The Institute of Politics at Harvard University reports that while many people are invested in the topic -- 26 percent of Democrats agree that they'd be more likely to vote in an election with marijuana on the ballot and 21 percent of Republicans saying the same--there are divisions as wide as the Mississippi. To be sure, Democrats support legislation with 49 percent in favor and 28 percent opposed, whereas Republicans tend to swing the other way, with 50 percent opposed and 32 percent in favor.

The prevailing mindset on Capitol Hill is that marijuana is a hotbed of controversy that is better left untouched. In doing so, however, they're finding that they are curtailing the efforts of states to legalize cannabis in a responsible, conscientious manner. Moreover, when politicians do try to join the discussion, they often stumble. House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland illustrated this to a room full of giggles in 2014. When asked about drug decriminalization, he asserted that a show of hands at a news conference would illustrate how many people can be affected by drug laws.

Hoyer then raised his own hand and said, "the use thereof, the trying thereof - inhaling or not. Experimentation.” Although his aides quickly played damage control and insisted the politician hadn't ever smoked pot (which he also reiterated), listeners drew their own conclusions: the politician was a connoisseur. Regardless of whether politicians themselves are partaking, they’re now, more than ever, becoming more involved.

Darrell Dexter, the former premier of Nova Scotia is now a lobbyist for the marijuana industry. In a Q&A with a Canadian news site, Dexter acknowledged both the controversy around marijuana, as well as the economic benefits to come. He mentioned the recent Deloitte report claiming that “in all likelihood, [the marijuana industry will] reach something in the order of a $22-billion industry [in Canada], in fact eclipsing the combined sales of beer, wine and spirits.”

It didn't take long for advocacy group Third Way to recognize a gap and try to fill it. They formed focus groups. They called in pollsters and consultants. They devoted endless hours to finding a coherent message that lawmakers could deliver. They then proposed a policy that would shift federal law to offer a "safe haven" to states that legalized marijuana. Participants would have access to banking services, protection from prosecution by the federal government, and the ability to effectively regulate their marketplace. Since then, the call for lobbyists to support marijuana legislation has grown. From 2010 to late 2015, there was 310 lobbying filings with the House of Representatives clerk's registry with the word "marijuana." For perspective, the word "bank" appears in 12,450 filings and "energy" in 85,290.

As the lobbying force matures and the message that politicians deliver shifts, discussion of marijuana is ever-evolving. While we don't profess to have all the solutions, Delta 9 does offer a selection of specialized, executive talent in the cannabis industry. Give us a call at 212.390.8190 to discover what we can do for you.


Dan Ogden is a 20+ year veteran of the executive search industry, having covered operations, regulatory and consulting verticals within capital markets as well as data science, data analytics and, more recently, the cannabis industry within search firm and internal corporate HR leadership roles. Dan is Principal of the practice at Delta 9, the Western Hemisphere's' only dedicated cannabis industry executive search firm. To find out how Delta 9's proprietary, trademarked end-to-end recruiting methodology can help you find the key executives to make your company thrive and grow in the cannabis industry, shoot us an email, or give us a ring at 212.390.8190.


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