Cannabis industry lobbying in Colorado often hard to track; succeeds in weakening state clean indoor air law

Thomas Rotering and Dorie Apollonio just published “Cannabis industry lobbying in the Colorado state legislature in fiscal years 2010-2021” in International Journal of Drug Policy. This paper provides the first in-depth analysis of cannabis industry lobbying at in the first state to legalize adult use cannabis. It shows rapidly accelerating lobbying expenditures after recreational cannabis was legalized.

Rotering and Apollonio highlight the linkages with the tobacco and alcohol industries — both of which are increasing invested in the cannabis market — as well as the fact that it is often difficult to identify which lobbyists are actually working for the cannabis industry. Specifically, in 48% of cannabis lobbying reports, a cannabis affiliation was not immediately apparent. That likely shows some desire to remain anonymous or to represent a broad coalition, when in fact the industry is pulling the strings. 

They also note that when Jared Polis was elected as Governor, cannabis lobbying spiked and cannabis interests seized the moment, passing bills which had failed or been vetoed under Governor Hickenlooper, including a bill licensing onsite cannabis consumption. They identify many similarities in their case study of how the cannabis industry won an exemption from the state clean indoor air law that had been passed to protect people from secondhand tobacco smoke. 

Here is the abstract:

Background: The cannabis industry has an interest in creating a regulatory environment which maximizes profits at the cost of public health, similar to the tobacco, alcohol, and food industries. This study sought to describe the cannabis industry’s lobbying activities in the Colorado State Legislature over time.

Methods: This retrospective observational study analyzed publicly available lobbying expenditures data from fiscal years (FY) 2010-2021. Measures included inflation-adjusted monthly lobbying expenditures by funder and lobbyist, origin of funding, and lobbyist descriptions of cannabis industry clients. This dataset was supplemented with business license documentation, legislative histories, and public testimony.

Results: The cannabis industry spent over $7 million (inflation adjusted) from FY 2010-2021 to lobby the Colorado legislature on 367 bills. Over $800,000 (11% of total cannabis spending) was from out-of-state clients. In 48% of lobbyist reports lobbyists did not disclose their funder’s cannabis affiliation, and cannabis organizations used strategies that may have obscured the true amount and source of funding. Lobbyists and agencies concurrently represented the alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis industries, possibly facilitating inter-industry alliances when interests align.

Conclusion: The cannabis industry dedicated significant resources towards lobbying the Colorado State Legislature on behalf of policies intended to increase cannabis use. Creating transparency about the relationships between the cannabis industry, related industries, and policymakers is essential to ensure appropriate regulation of cannabis products.

The full citation is: Rotering T, Apollonio DE. Cannabis industry lobbying in the Colorado state legislature in fiscal years 2010-2021. Int J Drug Policy. 2022 Jan 24;102:103585. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2022.103585. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35085854. It is available here.

Published by Stanton Glantz

Stanton Glantz is a retired Professor of Medicine who served on the University of California San Francisco faculty for 45 years. He conducts research on tobacco and cannabis control and cardiovascular disease/

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