On June 2nd, Amazon made a two-fold announcement concerning marijuana. The first was that the tech giant would no longer test employees for marijuana use. While this represents a significant shift concerning cultural stigma associated with cannabis users, the second announcement carried political ramifications.
Moving forward, Amazon stated that its public policy team will support the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, a bill that passed the House of Representatives last December that would remove cannabis with more than 0.3 percent THC from the list of Controlled Substances. Further, the MORE Act would expunge criminal records for nonviolent marijuana-related convictions and create social equity programs in an effort to address the fact that underprivileged populations were disproportionately affected by the criminalization of marijuana.
Immediately after this announcement, pot stocks roared. This is not the first time a major company has expressed support for marijuana legalization. Last April, Uber’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi stated that the company would enter the marijuana delivery space if and when federal reform advances. Nevertheless, this announcement from Amazon is monumental. It answers a question folks have long been asking in the United States – what is the path to the federal legalization of marijuana?
While it may be polarizing, the answer is to garner the support of big business. Once the Fortune 500s of the world see a direct path that can benefit them from marijuana legalization, their support will drive policy decisions. Amazon certainly sees the economic opportunity. While we all believe in the altruism of legalization, the market is ultimately the driving force behind what is and is not feasible and dictates what is allowed and not allowed.
Let’s take a moment to understand what Amazon means when it says its public policy team will support the MORE Act. We’re talking about lobbying. While it’s not a popular sentiment, lobbying efforts on behalf of a grassroots or cottage industry at the federal level can only go so far. Despite the U.S. marijuana industry generating billions of dollars, it’s still just a drop in the bucket compared to other global industries. The lobbying power of a company like Amazon not only far surpasses what the marijuana industry is currently capable of, but it goes a long way to legitimize the economic potential of legalization in the eyes of D.C. policymakers.
Historically, the marijuana industry has been largely anti-big business. And yes, pick almost any large multinational company, and at some point, they’ve almost all failed to comply with certain regulations, treated their employees poorly, etc. Nobody is saying big businesses are saints, but you need powerful interests, the likes of Amazon, to persuade and motivate policymakers to make a change.
At the end of the day, commercial success requires heavily regulated industries and major players to participate. Big cannabis is not something to be feared. Further, the support of big businesses and their lobbying efforts will likely give policymakers more confidence in the legalization and commercialization of marijuana.
If the plant was fully legalized tomorrow, and there was no Procter and Gamble, no Coca-Cola, no Amazons of the world involved, it’s conceivable that policymakers would be wary of who’s producing and distributing marijuana. It would be a bunch of unknown quantities without resources that are brand new to a mainstream game. Not to mention, there is still the legacy of the black market and decades of stigma to collectively overcome.
While there’s nothing wrong with the marijuana industry and the players in its current iteration, federal policymakers need the push from mainstream businesses to advance legalization. Whether advocates and the industry like it or not, bureaucrats need the sense of comfort that comes from dealing with the familiar faces of big business involved in producing and distributing marijuana. Amazon fills that void.
The question becomes what will the intersection between the cottage industry we have today and big cannabis look like in the future? Will there be an opportunity for partnership and collaboration?
It’s a tired, old analogy, but I’m going to use it anyway. In the alcohol industry, there’s Budweiser, a smooth drinking American lager distributed in every liquor store in the country, and then there’s craft beer, brewed locally with boutique ingredients and distributed regionally, if at all. Why would marijuana be any different? Do we really think that small, craft dispensaries and growers can possibly meet consumer demand in the wake of federal marijuana legalization as the need for large-scale, commercial production hits like a tidal wave?
The market will fill all the needs that consumers demand. There will be room for the Budweisers of cannabis, just as there will be room for craft marijuana.
On May 28th, New York’s 10th congressional district representative, Jerry Nadler reintroduced the MORE Act in Congress. The United States is undoubtedly on the verge of some form of federal reform. It may be the MORE Act, it may also be the SAFE Banking Act or the CLAIMS Act. Nevertheless, the time has come to be open-minded. Fear amplifies a perception that somehow big business will destroy an idyllic world where marijuana is free and everyone grows and sells it at their leisure. It won’t. We need big business if we want to win the decades-long fight against misinformation. Ultimately, support from the likes of Amazon is just going to accelerate the cultural and political change cannabis pioneers have been advocating for for more than half a century. This is just the truth of our market-driven world. The best we can do is embrace the reality of the plant’s future. Deep down, we’ve always known this is how the marijuana industry would evolve. For me personally, I welcome Amazon’s support with open arms.