A top leader of the national prohibitionist group Smart Approaches To Marijuana (SAM) is launching a new Political Action Committee (PAC), targeting pro-legalization candidates and backing those who oppose the policy in key races. And one of the super PAC’s first targets is a new GOP congresswoman who is sponsoring her own bill to legalize and regulate cannabis federally.
Luke Niforatos, executive vice president of SAM and CEO of the new Protect Our Kids PAC, told Marijuana Moment that he decided to branch out to create the committee to “give more political power to families and children, who want elected representatives in office who will prioritize their health and safety over industries seeking to profit from drug legalization.
Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) is among the first targets of the PAC. He plans to invest tens of thousands of dollars in a campaign specifically aimed at ousting the congresswoman, who made headlines after she introduced a GOP-led bill to end the cannabis ban in the end of last year.
Asked why the PAC began to focus on Mace, rather than other, longer-serving pro-legalization lawmakers awaiting re-election, Niforatos said the congresswoman “has become the face of the legalization of marijuana for the Republican Party” and accused her of being “a lackey of Altria Phillip Morris, America’s largest tobacco company that funds the legalization of marijuana.
“Her constituents don’t support the commercialization of marijuana, but she spends an inordinate amount of her time defending politics,” he claimed. “The legalization of marijuana has hurt children, families and caused significant health damage in states that have adopted such policies. It’s time to hold her accountable.
Mace countered the attack, telling Marijuana Moment that polls she has conducted of her constituents show that “two out of three Republican primary voters in our district agree that states should have the right to decide their own laws on cannabis, and that’s exactly what the States Reform Act (SRA) does.
“It protects the rights of states to decide for themselves,” the MP said. “It’s the basic premise of federalism, also a conservative principle.”
Social media ads attacking Mace over the cannabis problem are already rolling out. Like this one, delving into concerns about marijuana products that some fear attract children:
And this one plays on fears of an increase in road deaths after legalization, although the data is mixed on the association.
Mace is used to this kind of targeted pushback. Shortly after introducing its legalization bill, the Republican Party in its own state came out strongly against the proposal. South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Drew McKissick issued a statement saying the organization opposes “any” effort to end the ban and saying the congresswoman’s bill does not no exception.
In February, Mace’s main Republican challenger, Katie Arrington, criticized the incumbent’s emphasis on legalizing marijuana in an ad campaign, saying, “Is Nancy Mace stoned?
Separately, Mace and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) tabled a resolution this month imploring President Joe Biden to use his influence to get the United Nations to end the international ban on marijuana by removing the plant on the list of controlled substances in a global drug treaty.
In any case, Mace will not be the new CAP single target. With what Niforatos said is six-figure funding which the committee will soon report to the FEC, they will be tackling “6 to 12 races this cycle, focusing on internal races as well as races at the level of the state”.
That includes running ads in “certain key races in the coming weeks” and backing Colorado House candidate Yardira Caraveo’s main race because she sponsored legislation to “overhaul” the state cannabis program last year. He will also back “another Colorado Republican in a close race,” he said.
“The slate we endorse (which will grow) is made up of two Democrats and two Republicans, and that bipartisan nature will continue. We will support and attack the same numbers from both sides,” Niforatos said. “We believe that good drug policy that protects families and children is bipartisan, and should remain that way.”
Another candidate the PAC will back is Washington State Rep. Lauren Davis (D), which may seem an unusual choice for an anti-legalization committee since lawmakers last year sponsored a bill to to decriminalize low-level possession of all drugs.
Niforatos said Davis is “a friend of ours, and she’s a brave legislator who has worked in the recovery field and who bravely took on the marijuana industry in Washington State advocating sensible regulations such as power caps”.
“He is also someone who recognizes that drug addiction is something to be dealt with in order to be cured, not to normalize use or allow the commercialization of drugs,” he said, adding that he challenges the characterization of his legislation as “broad decriminalization” even though it seeks to remove criminal penalties for petty possession of all drugs, in addition to strengthening drug treatment.
“That doesn’t mean we’ll agree on everything – we’ll probably never agree on every policy issue or nuance with any of our candidates that we support,” he said. “But Rep. Davis puts the health and safety of families first and those are values that we believe are desperately needed by American policymakers.”
Also on the PAC slate is a former federal prosecutor from West Virginia who is currently running for the state Senate. Mike Stuart has regularly expressed his hostility to cannabis reform, including at summit events and a symposium on the issue he hosted in 2018 when he was a lawyer in the United States.
The committee will additionally support Kentucky Rep. Kimberly Moser (R) in her bid for re-election. The lawmaker has opposed efforts to legalize medical cannabis in her state, but she sponsored cannabis research legislation that was approved by the House this month.
Some might ask: if the goal of the new PAC is to defeat pro-legalization candidates and support those who oppose the adoption of such a policy change, why not just continue to do so and collect funds for SAM, or his 501(c)? (4) SAM action? After all, the goals seem closely aligned.
Niforatos said “SAM has always focused on educating the public, lawmakers and does not engage in partisanship in any way. This mission has been successful and will continue.
“But SAM is a 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit organization. He cannot support or oppose individual candidates,” he said.
Insisting that SAM Action could theoretically accomplish what the PAC Protect Our Kids sets out to do, Niforatos said the 501(c)(4) group “is only used for lobbying and advocacy activities.” .
“We really want to stay away from campaigning and partisanship with SAM/SAM Action,” he said. “I wanted to create my own super PAC, separate from these organizations, that would allow me to do more electoral work with the vision of protecting families and children from drugs.”
As the momentum for drug policy reform builds, this is the latest example of how PACs continue to come into play.
The former NORML lobbyist launched his own Better Organizing to Win Legalization (BOWL) PAC last month, for example. And Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the sponsor of a federal cannabis legalization bill for a floor vote this week, sent a joint email to supporters to raise funds last week.
Also last month, New York Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D) launched an equity-focused political action committee that will put a strong emphasis on electing candidates who support marijuana reform.
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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.