The marijuana legalization movement has long been dominated by left-wing organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. And even though a handful of congressional Republicans support the issue, most advocates of legalization in Congress they are democrats.
“We cannot cut with a single scissor blade. We need Republicans to pass [a legalization bill]”Said Angelos, founder of the Weldon Project. Angelos served 13 years of a 55-year sentence on marijuana trafficking charges and obtained a full pardon from former President Donald Trump last December.
The bottom: The idea for the Cannabis Freedom Alliance came from a Zoom call between Angelos, Snoop Dogg and Koch last summer. Koch voiced his support for the legalization of all drugs, much to Angelos’ surprise.
“I knew his position on drugs was very libertarian,” Angelos said. “I just didn’t know that he supported the legalization of all drugs.”
Angelos connected with to the Koch Network for their help in advocating for legalization at the federal level, which he believes is more important now than ever with Democrats in control of Congress. Before changing the Senate, then the majority Leader Mitch McConnell was a barrier to any marijuana legislation that made it to the room. But now that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is pushing the issue as a priority, a bill on marijuana could well go up for a vote.
“We need 10 to 12 Republican senators,” Angelos said. “With Koch’s influence, I think it’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 dwarfs the official Republican Party in terms of size, scope and spending.
“Americans for Prosperity is pleased to work together with our partners to bring cannabis businesses to light, replacing black and gray markets with a free and fair legal framework,” said Brent W. Gardner, director of government affairs for Americans for Prosperity, in a statement. “The cannabis trade will become a way for Americans to rise up, rather than a barrier to stop them.”
The context: Schumer recently told POLITICO that he plans to push through a legalization bill with or without the blessing of President Joe Biden.
The House made history last December when it voted on the MORE Act, which would eliminate federal marijuana. But only five of the more than 200 Republicans in the House broke with their party to vote for the bill. Six Democrats voted against the bill.
Depending on how many moderate Democrats can 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 first reach out to libertarian-leaning Republicans like Senators Rand Paul (Ky.) And Mike Lee (Utah), though Angelos believes that voter-approved legalization ballot questions in conservative states like Montana and Dakota from the South could bring others on board.
What they want: The coalition will advocate for removing penalties for marijuana crimes and ensuring that people in the illicit market can 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 things like interstate commerce because it doesn’t support their business model,” Angelos said. “That’s another reason why [AFP] it is a perfect ally in this because they support free and open markets. “
Many state medical or adult marijuana programs have license limits that run counter to a freer 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 the Cannabis Trade and a former assistant to Paul. “Most Republicans understand the free market aspects.”
The Kochs also supported the First Step Act, a 2018 bipartisan criminal justice reform bill that included a sentencing reform for drug offenders.