Pubdate: Wed, 03 Dec 2014
Source: Virgin Islands Daily News, The (VI)
Copyright: 2014 Virgin Islands Daily News
Author: Evan Halper, Los Angeles Times
Page: 22


LAS VEGAS - After decades helping lead the fight against the national 
war on drugs, Ethan Nadelmann recently joined thousands of marijuana 
entrepreneurs here celebrating legalization - and found the scene 
kind of irritating.

The rapidly expanding legal pot industry has started to make some 
people rich, but the new pot capitalists are stingy about keeping the 
momentum for legalization building, Nadelmann said.

The wealthy donors who have long bankrolled groups like Nadelmann's 
Drug Policy Alliance, anchored by billionaire George Soros, have 
taken notice. They got involved because of concerns over racial 
justice and civil liberties. If those issues are going to be 
overshadowed by the opportunity to sell cannabis candy bars to 
college kids, they're starting to say, then maybe the people making 
the money should bear the cost.

"I have donors saying, 'I see lots of people making money from this. 
Why aren't they stepping up and paying for these campaigns?'" 
Nadelmann said over runny eggs at the Hash House coffee shop off the 
convention floor at the Rio Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, where the 
Marijuana Business Conference was taking place.

"They are increasingly saying, 'Isn't it time to move on? Shouldn't 
we be focusing our efforts on mass incarceration? Addiction?'" he said.

The tension has surfaced at a time when pot advocates are 
particularly anxious about fundraising.

The 2016 election promises to be expensive for the legalization 
movement, with ballot measures likely in California, Nevada, Maine 
and Massachusetts. Arizona and Missouri are being contemplated as well.

There is talk of trying to place a medical marijuana measure on the 
ballot again in Florida, where this year it fell just a few 
percentage points shy of the state's 60 percent threshold for passage.

"The expense is scaling up dramatically," said Graham Boyd, founder 
of New Approach, a pro-legalization political committee.

The California measure alone will cost more than the combined tab for 
this year's campaigns in Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., as well 
as Florida. Even smaller states could prove far more costly than in 
the past, now that Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino tycoon who 
helped sink this year's Florida measure, is threatening to give 
millions of dollars to anti-legalization campaigns nationwide.

"In order for all this to happen, there has to be more funding from 
somewhere," Boyd said.

A former head of the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project, Boyd is from the 
same old guard of the legalization crusade as Nadelmann. Nadelmann 
advised Soros, Boyd counseled the other billionaire at the core of 
the legal pot movement, insurance industry titan Peter Lewis.

Lewis died last year, just as the Oregon campaign was beginning. His 
death made clear just how dependent the effort was on a small group 
of rich people. The Oregon campaign almost unraveled. Its entire 
staff was laid off.

Boyd and Nadelmann scoured their contact lists and hit the road. They 
managed to raise enough money to revive the campaign. But it was 
dicey. And contributions from the new marijuana capitalists covered 
barely 10 percent of the bill.

At the Las Vegas conference, Nadelmann chastised the pot 
entrepreneurs, sounding like an exasperated high school principal 
scolding truants, except that he swore a lot.

"All of you came that close to seeing this thing blow up in our 
faces," he told them, referring to the near-crisis in Oregon. "I am 
looking for you guys to step up and step up soon.

"You wait for some goody-two-shoes who is interested in civil rights 
to say, 'Let's legalize,' then we will come in and hire our lobbyist 
for our own interests. It is shortsighted. It is narrow-minded."

During a keynote address focused on the virtues of building a 
socially responsible industry, Ben Cohen, the Ben of Ben & Jerry's 
ice cream, suggested a creative solution: Perhaps sales of drug 
paraphernalia would get a boost if they had the Drug Policy 
Alliance's logo stamped on them. The alliance, in turn, could get a 
cut of each stamped bong, pipe or other product sold, he said.

It was not quite what Nadelmann had in mind. And probably not 
something that would go over well with the button-down types on his board.

A few firms are heeding the call. Ghost Group, the Newport Beach 
investment firm behind Weed Maps, a sort of Yelp of pot dispensaries, 
has given tens of thousands of dollars to legalization campaigns.

Aaron Houston, the firm's lobbyist in Washington, said the marijuana 
industry would be wise to learn from the example of Silicon Valley, 
which neglected politics in the mid-1990s at its own peril.

"We do not want to repeat those same mistakes," Houston said.

At ArcView Group, a San Francisco firm that matches investors with 
promising marijuana-related start-ups, co-founder Troy Dayton said 
the "donation gap" is one of the biggest threats facing the fledgling industry.

"The people who have been paying for the legalization campaigns are 
starting to back off," he said. "They see the industry growing and 
figure we will take it from here. But so far, the money has just not 
been there."

At conferences the firm holds every few months for financiers, Dayton 
leaves time for legalization activists to appeal for donations. He 
then backs up their pitches with the enthusiasm of a carnival barker.

The pitches have raised roughly $500,000 total over the last few 
years, he said. But lately, contributions have been on the wane.

In Vegas, where ArcView this month held its biggest conference ever, 
Dayton said he was "pretty disappointed" with the pledges, which 
totaled about $75,000.

The amount was underwhelming, he said, considering the nearly 300 
millionaires in the room, all looking to make money off marijuana legalization.

"We are kind of back to the drawing board," Dayton said, "figuring 
out how to inspire this crowd."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom