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Amazon, investment banks, and even big tobacco are spending millions of dollars to try to get favorable marijuana laws
Jul 21, 2021 · 5 min
Summary List PlacementA record number of special interests that for the first time included tech giant Amazon lobbied on cannabis from April to June this year as legalization talks ...
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Amazon, investment banks, and even big tobacco are spending millions of dollars to try to get favorable marijuana laws

Summary List Placement

A record number of special interests that for the first time included tech giant Amazon lobbied on cannabis from April to June this year as legalization talks heated up on Capitol Hill, an Insider analysis of new lobbying disclosures found. 

The more than 167 groups that lobbied on cannabis during the second quarter of this year is an increase from 147 that spent their influence dollars on the issue during the first quarter of this year. It's also a jump from the 162 interests that lobbied on cannabis during the second quarter of 2020. 

Amazon, which publicly announced support for federal cannabis legalization last month for the first time, spent $5 million in the second quarter lobbying on this and other issues. The company had not previously lobbied on cannabis legalization, according to an Insider review of past disclosures. 

Wall Street analysts say the legal cannabis market could be worth over $100 billion in the US alone by the end of the decade, and corporations from the medical, consumer, and financial services sectors are all competing for a slice — and the ability to shape how the industry is regulated from the start. 

It's difficult to know the exact dollar amount spent specifically on weed lobbying because companies are only required to broadly disclose their influence expenditures and often bundle them with other issues they pushed for at the same time.

The latest lobbying increase coincides with the months leading up to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other top Democrats unveiling a plan to decriminalize, tax, and regulate cannabis. 

The outside legalization push came not only from cannabis companies but from alcohol and tobacco interests that want a share of the market. They include investment banks and companies like PayPal, and even from health and veterans' groups.

New clients and well-connected lobbyists 

Federal cannabis lobbying began accelerating in 2019, when Democrats, who tend to be more supportive of legalization, took control of the House. At least 22 cannabis-linked interests newly registered to lobby during the first half of this year, which is double the number that registered to lobby during the entirety of 2020. 

Among those who entered the fray during the second quarter were medical marijuana companies ​Ayr Wellness, Prime Venture Capital, and DBL Ventures. 

Those companies all picked Florida-based lobbying firm Ballard Partners, which had already been working on behalf of medical marijuana company Trulieve, to represent them. The firm was founded by Brian Ballard, a longtime friend and fundraiser for former President Donald Trump. 

Ballard opened an office in Washington, DC, when Trump became president and his firm thrived there. It however lost clients when Trump did not win re-election. Ballard Partners has since staffed up with several new lobbyists who have ties to Democrats. 

The world's largest cannabis companies also increased their lobbying footprint. Constellation Brands-backed Canopy Growth, one of the largest cannabis companies by market cap, created its own in-house lobbying powerhouse by hiring Parker Foxhall away from the Democratic National Committee, where he was a PAC finance director. 

It spent $290,000 on in-house lobbying during the second quarter and another $110,000 on lobbying firms. 

Curaleaf, one of the largest cannabis companies in the US, signed on with lobbying firm Cozen O'Connor Public Strategies and paid the firm $70,000 for its services during the second quarter. 

The company already had an in-house lobbying arm after it brought on Edward Conklin, who was a longtime lobbyist at McDonald's, in 2018. It spent $60,000 on lobbying in the second quarter.  

Altria, the tobacco giant that owns Philip Morris, spent nearly $3 million lobbying on cannabis and other issues. Altria owns a significant stake in Canadian cannabis firm Cronos Group, which sells products containing CBD and other non-THC cannabinoids in the US.

One of Altria's longtime lobbyists, Susan Platt, was President Joe Biden's chief of staff for two years when he was in the Senate and disclosures show that she began speaking with lawmakers about cannabis regulation this year. 

Morgan Stanley paid Crossroads Strategies $100,000 total during the first and second quarter of this year to lobby on cannabis banking issues. 

The financial sector wants Congress to change the status quo in which most federally chartered banks are unwilling to work with US cannabis companies because cannabis is still illegal under federal law, though some banks have started to lend or advise on lucrative deals.

Crossroads Strategies lobbied on behalf of banking issues for four other clients, including the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies and the Credit Union National Association.

Lobbying firm K&L Gates represented the Minority Cannabis Business Association and the United States Cannabis Council. 

One of its lobbyists, Scott Gelbman, worked for Schumer in the Senate for six years. Another lobbyist, Mary Baker, worked on the Senate Finance Committee for five years. Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, who is now in charge of the committee, is one of the top architects of the latest push for cannabis legalization. 

Several organizations who oppose cannabis legalization were also among the lobbyists, including Smart Approaches to Marijuana, the Family Research Council, and Americans for Nonsmokers Rights. 

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