There was a time, not long ago, when California’s medical marijuana industry was viewed as a death trap for career lobbyists.
For example: When Amy Jenkins, a young lobbyist in Sacramento, took a job representing the California Cannabis Industry Association two years ago, longtime lobbyists told her she was crazy. It would ruin her future, they said.
“I was warned against it,” Jenkins told the Sacramento Bee. But she went anyway.
Lobbyists tend to be very careful in the clients they represent. One bad association could leave a lobbyist with a taint that makes it harder to work for other clients.
But when it comes to marijuana, times are changing.
“Now we’re seeing this complete shift in attitude where these very same people are coming to me and saying, ‘Hey, do you have a client you can throw my way or can you give me a referral so I can get into this industry?’” Jenkins said. “It’s fascinating what’s happened in a year’s time.”
Marijuana lobbying now out in the open
So much have times changed that cannabis reform and industry interests have become a common topic of conversation at the state Capitol. Representatives of the industry are no longer hiding in the shadows or running on a shoe-string budget. Weed lobbying has gone big time in California.
Marijuana lobbyists now work for more than two dozen groups that span a wide range of concerns, from protections for the wine industry to statewide recreation (the Recreational Boaters of California). And more well-financed businesses are coming, giving lobbyists an even bigger pie to take from.
Jenkins works for a lobbying agency called Platinum, which contracts with various industry groups. The California Cannabis Industry Association paid the firm $55,000 to push medical marijuana businesses in the state Legislature in 2015. That topped the payouts Platinum typically gets from more mainstream clients.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture, meanwhile, paid $30,000 for Platinum lobbyists, while the group Drug Policy Action paid $4,500. Elsewhere, lobbyists Gonzalez, Quintana, Hunter & Cruz were paid $34,000 to represent the California Cannabis Operators League.
Marijuana is big business for lobbying agencies
Not surprisingly, these lobbyists frequently target lawmakers who are more likely to support reform – the legislators with “a little stoner” in them and some history of toking, said David Quintana, a partner with Gonzalez, Quintana, Hunter & Cruz.
But otherwise, Quintana said, lobbyists treat their marijuana accounts just like any other lobbying job. And the attraction is the same.
“There are a lot of people with a vested interest that see California as the pot of gold,” he said. “They see that pot of gold will be shaped by the legislature. They all want a seat at that table. They don’t want to be the one left out.”
The biggest explanation for the booming cannabis lobby is that the drug has become increasingly legal and easy to get over the past two decades. What’s more, recent collaboration between industry players and a once-hesitant law enforcement community are paving the way for new approaches.
For industry and trade groups, the availability of new lobbyists has been a “game changer,” said Nate Bradley, head of the California Cannabis Industry Association.
“By the end of last year, every lobbyist and their mother is banging on our door trying to understand how to get a cannabis client,” Bradley said. “I had someone try to poach me from Amy in a bathroom at a restaurant.”
What do you think? Is it a good thing lobbyists are joining the cannabis industry? Post a comment below.