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Cannabis industry campaign expenditures in Colorado, 2005-2021

  • Rotering, Thomas
  • Bialous, Stella
  • Apollonio, Dorie
Publication Date
Sep 01, 2023
eScholarship - University of California
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BackgroundThe cannabis industry has been described using the commercial determinants of health framework because it seeks to increase sales and profits through efforts to change the political environment. To increase understanding of these cannabis industry's efforts, this study describes cannabis industry campaign contributions in Colorado through an analysis of public records.MethodsWe reviewed datasets posted online at the Colorado Secretary of State's Transparent in Contribution and Expenditure Reporting (TRACER) Campaign Finance System. We generated descriptive data on cannabis industry contributions to elections and conducted regressions to identify predictors of contributions, and associations between lagged contributions and a legislator's cannabis industry score (how closely aligned lawmaker's legislative history is with the cannabis industry from -1 to 1).ResultsBetween 2005-2021, 429 cannabis-affiliated contributors gave $4,658,385 (2021 inflation-adjusted) to 512 electoral committees. Contributions came primarily from non-profits (45%), businesses (27%), and individuals (25%). After recreational legalization in 2012, contributions from non-profit donors with industry ties gave way to contributions from cannabis businesses, business owners, and lobbyists. Cannabis industry contributions to local and state-wide ballot initiative campaigns historically made up the majority of the industry spending, but contributions to candidate committees more than tripled between the 2009-2010 legislative cycle and the 2019-2020 cycle. From 2017-2020, every $10,000 in lagged campaign donations from cannabis industry affiliated contributors was associated with a 0.245-point increase in a legislator's cannabis industry score (p=0.04).ConclusionCannabis-affiliated interests made substantial campaign contributions in Colorado. Public health advocates should monitor industry connections to lawmakers and industry tactics used to mask the source of political contributions. Continued surveillance of the cannabis industry is essential to exposing conflicts of interest and preventing undue industry influence.

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