There’s a new pro-weed organization—and it has some major green behind it.
The Cannabis Freedom Alliance launched Tuesday with the support of billionaire Charles Koch, who’s been one of the biggest players in Republican politics over the past decade.
Koch’s Americans for Prosperity is a major player in the coalition, along with the libertarian Reason Foundation, which Koch has also funded over the years, as well as the Mission Green/The Weldon Project, and the Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce, a major marijuana trade group.
“For too long, the criminalization of cannabis has hurt Americans, from individuals’ unnecessary involvement with the justice system to the damage dealt to communities by the expensive and failed ‘War on Drugs,’” Brent Gardner, Americans for Prosperity’s chief government affairs officer, said in a statement. “Americans for Prosperity is excited to work alongside our partners to bring cannabis businesses into the light.”
The coalition’s goals include descheduling marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, supporting criminal justice reform, protecting people currently running “grey market” marijuana businesses where it’s legal at the state level but not federally, promoting free and open markets, and limiting taxes on legal marijuana.
Angelos told Politico, which first reported the new coalition, that the idea for the group came together after a Zoom meeting between him, Koch and Snoop Dogg last year. Angelos, a former hip-hop producer, was sentenced to 55 years in prison in 2004 for selling marijuana while possessing a firearm. He was released from prison in 2016 after a bipartisan lobbying effort that included celebrities like Snoop Dogg and Alicia Keys as well as support from Koch and Republicans including Utah GOP Sen. Mike Lee. President Trump issued him a full pardon in 2020.
“Ending cannabis prohibition and incarceration is a moral imperative. For too long, cruel laws punishing non-violent cannabis offenses have destroyed the lives of individuals throughout this country— myself included,” Angelos said in a statement. “It is high time that Congress and the President right this wrong and allow those harmed by cannabis prohibition the chance to participate in the cannabis industry like the millionaires and billionaires doing so now. But we can’t do this alone. We need both sides to come together on this, which is why we launched this coalition.”
In late 2020, the House passed a marijuana decriminalization bill for the first time in U.S. history. But only a handful of House Republicans supported the bill. And it faces a steep uphill battle to pass the Senate—roughly a dozen Republican senators would need to agree to support the measure. And while Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has pledged to push the legislation in the Senate, President Biden opposes full legalization, part of a long pattern of resistance to pot from the president.
Koch has long been clear about his libertarian views on drugs—he’s supported full legalization of cannabis for years. But in the past, he’s poured hundreds of millions of dollars supporting conservative Republicans, most of whom strongly opposed marijuana. This is the first time he’s appeared ready to spend substantial resources lobbying on the issue.
He’s far from the only conservative lobbying for weed—former House Speaker John Boehner is now a certified pot lobbyist. And he’s not quite as influential in GOP circles as in years past since he refused to support Trump’s campaigns.
But support for cannabis legalization has skyrocketed in the past decade—two-thirds of Americans now support marijuana legalization, according to recent polls. That number includes nearly half of Republicans.
And Koch has nearly unlimited resources. If he decides to go all-in on pushing Republicans to embrace pot legalization, he could help move the needle by providing cover for Republicans to embrace the policy.