Pubdate: Tue, 25 Mar 2014
Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal (NV)
Copyright: 2014 Las Vegas Review-Journal
Author: Evan Halper, Tribune Washington Bureau


WASHINGTON - Hoping to get marijuana legalized in Nevada, an 
investment company specializing in the fast-growing marijuana 
industry invited the ballot initiative's backers to pitch 150 
financiers at a Las Vegas symposium.

Within 10 minutes, they raised $150,000.

Political contributors are not the only ones taking notice of the new 
realities of the marijuana business, said San Francisco based ArcView 
chief executive Troy Dayton, who estimated his group will spend about 
$500,000 this year to support legalization of pot. Officeholders and 
candidates now jostle for the stage at investor meetings, he said.

"A little more than a year ago, it would have been worthy of a 
headline if a sitting politician came to talk to a cannabis group," 
he said. "Now they are calling us, asking to speak at our events."

No clearer example of the change exists than the industry's newest 
full-time lobbyist, Michael Correia. An advocate for the 300-member 
National Cannabis Industry Association, he is a former GOP staffer 
who for two years worked as a lobbyist for the American Legislative 
Exchange Council - the powerful conservative advocacy group that 
works with state lawmakers to block health care reform, clean energy 
incentives and gun restrictions.

"People hear the word 'marijuana' and they think Woodstock, they 
think tie-dye, they think dreadlocks," the San Diego native said. "It 
is not. These are legitimate businesses producing revenue, creating 
jobs. I want to be the face of it. I want to be what Congress sees."

Correia doesn't smoke pot. It makes him sleepy, he said. And he 
hasn't been in the trenches for years fighting for legalization.

For him, the work is largely about the federal government 
unnecessarily stifling an industry's growth. Any conservative, he 
said, should be troubled when companies can't claim tax deductions or 
keep cash in banks or provide plants for federal medical research.

"I have legitimacy when I walk into these offices and say, 'This is a 
cause you can get behind,'" Correia said. "I am not the stereotypical 
marijuana movement person. I grew up supporting these principles of 
limited government and federalism and fairness and individual 
liberty. This is the ultimate poster child for all of that."

As pranksters and protesters give way to lobbyists and consultants in 
pinstriped suits, longtime pot advocates welcome the reinforcements, 
but sometimes bridle at the bottom-line agenda.

Officials at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana 
Laws expressed annoyance, for example, when some industry players in 
Maine recently opposed a legalization bill in their state. Full 
legalization threatened to break the monopoly on pot sales that 
current medical marijuana sellers enjoy.

"A lot of these companies are just in it for the money, the way any 
entrepreneur is," said Erik Altieri, a lobbyist with NORML.

Moreover, some marijuana advocates confess, the all-business approach 
has taken a bit of fun out of the job.

"I used to go to cocktail parties, tell people I was a lobbyist for 
marijuana, and their minds would be blown," said Dan Riffle, who 
advocates for the Marijuana Policy Project. "You could see their eyes 
light up. They would be like, 'Whoa, that is a real job? Tell me more.'"

Now, Riffle said, "I tell people and they are like, 'Oh. OK. I work 
for the energy sector.'"

But along with a certain staidness comes new partners.

Correia's association, for example, recently formed an alliance with 
Grover Norquist, the anti-tax activist who runs Americans for Tax 
Reform. In the fall, Norquist stood at a news conference with a 
longtime nemesis, Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, one of the most 
liberal members of Congress, to promote a measure that would allow 
marijuana enterprises to deduct business expenses from their taxes.

"Grover's view is government should not pick winners and losers," 
Correia said. "It is a fairness issue. This resonates with him."

When dozens of owners of cannabis businesses fanned out across the 
Capitol earlier this month for a day of lobbying, Correia advised 
them not to dwell on philosophical issues about the war on drugs, but 
to talk with lawmakers and their staffs about how the federal 
government was undermining growth of a legitimate industry.

"What Congress wants is more money," said Lev Mallinger, a Pasadena 
accountant with the firm Bridge West, which represents hundreds of 
marijuana sellers eager to claim tax deductions. Changing the tax 
law, he said, "will bring in more money. It encourages more 
dispensaries to be forthcoming with their financials and pay their taxes."

Now that the industry has legitimate money, politicians would like 
the favors to go both ways.

The Marijuana Policy Project used to get a request for campaign 
donations about once a week, Riffle said. Now, "I oftentimes just 
don't answer the phone when I see a 202 area code because I know it 
is going to be someone calling asking for money."

Pot lobbyists acknowledged that passage of any of the half-dozen 
measures they currently support probably remains at least a couple of 
years away. But the federal government can only be out of sync with a 
growing number of states for so long, they said, arguing that victory 
is inevitable as soon as the politics of pot catch up with 
fast-changing realities on the ground.

The Marijuana Policy Project recently purchased a building in 
Washington's vibrant Adams Morgan neighborhood, complete with a 
rooftop deck. On a recent warm evening, it hosted its first 
fundraiser there for a Republican, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California.

The next day, Rohrabacher noted the "evil weed" some loiterers had 
been inhaling outside the building: "They were smoking tobacco," he said.

Rohrabacher is a coauthor of a bill that would require the federal 
government to defer to state laws that allow marijuana sales.

"If it was a secret ballot," he said, "the majority of my Republican 
friends would vote for it."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom