Big Marijuana is coming — and even legalization supporters are worried

By December 10, 2015 Recent News 2 December 2015
Last month, Ohioans rejected a very unusual marijuana legalization proposal. Beyond legalizing pot, the ballot initiative would have given campaign donors direct rights to the state’s 10 pot farms as an explicit gift for their support. It was, even legalization advocates argued, a flagrant display of would-be members of the pot industry trying to cash in on a movement motivated primarily by social justice issues.

But while Ohio’s measure was rare in its blatant cash grab, some legalization backers are increasingly concerned that something like Ohio’s initiative will become standard — and the interests of the pot industry, which will grow more and more as legalization spreads, will take priority over the public’s best interests.

Dan Riffle, the former director of federal policy at the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a legalization advocacy group, recently told me that these concerns pushed him to leave MPP. In a revealing interview, he said that “the industry is taking over the movement.”

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“We used to talk three or four years ago about how we’re creating this industry, yet nobody in the industry gives to MPP,” Riffle said. “But now that they do give at least a little, it’s like, ‘Be careful what you asked for.’ Because we owe them now, and they get to drive the agenda.”

More than posing as a concern for the face and heart of the legalization movement, the worry that the industry will take over poses some challenges on the policy end as well. As support for marijuana legalization continues to grow, the question is quickly shifting from whether to legalize to how to legalize. And a movement that’s led by a pot industry has different interests than the public and policy reformers might have.

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