The new California governor will be decided later this year and while there are many people on the campaign trail, Gavin Newsom seems to be cannabis business pioneers top choice. One of the largest challenges facing California’s cannabis businesses, and every other legal cannabis business in the United States, is that they struggle finding a place to deposit their money due to federal restrictions.
California is a marijuana friendly state and there has been some discussion of setting up a municipal bank that cannabis businesses could deposit funds. It is this sort of mentality that cannabis businesses are looking for in political appointees and what they are hoping for from Newsom, who has embraced campaign donations from cannabis businesses. What else would a legal marijuana business want from its respective state’s politicians?
The fundraising dinner for Gavin Newsom in Salinas was in most ways a typical night for a political candidate. Local business leaders paid up to $5,000 for a chance to talk with the man aiming to be California’s next governor over cauliflower bisque, strip steak and Meyer lemon pudding cake.
The hosts that March evening were in the agriculture business, in a region known for its lettuce, grapes and strawberries. But they left their signature dish off the menu: candy infused with marijuana.
California will soon have open sales of recreational marijuana, and it needs to decide how to regulate its newest cash crop. Hoping to influence those decisions, the cannabis industry is seeking access to the state’s political leaders.
One candidate in 2018’s open race for governor is actively inviting their support. The industry is responding by following a conventional political playbook and pouring money into the lieutenant governor’s campaign to replace Gov. Jerry Brown.
Cultivators, retailers and others have given Newsom’s campaign more than $300,000, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of public records. As part of his aggressive fundraising drive, Newsom has become the first California gubernatorial candidate to solicit large sums from the cannabis industry — far eclipsing his rivals.
Though pot businesses’ contributions are only a fraction of Newsom’s $14-million war chest, the cannabis industry’s open pursuit of political influence shows how a once-underground business is becoming a part of the establishment. So far, donors with a tie to the plant have given more to candidates for governor than all other farmers in the state’s agriculture industry combined.
“In other industries there’s an expectation that you’re at the table before legislation is passed,” said Elizabeth Ashford, a former aide to Brown and Sen. Kamala Harris who founded a political consulting service for cannabis firms. “These businesses have evolved to that point.”
California’s next governor will dictate how much those businesses, which produce a good the federal government still considers illegal, can flourish.
Some in the industry see Newsom as a candidate who listens to their concerns and will stick up for them. Although Newsom says he has never smoked marijuana himself, he was one of the first statewide officeholders to support legalization of recreational use.
The host of the Salinas fundraiser on March 3 was Indus Holding Company, maker of cannabis confections such as Toasted Rooster and Crispy Kraken chocolate bars.
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