The creation of an industry trade group last year has helped legitimize the cause. The National Cannabis Industry Association represents the $1.7 billion legal medical marijuana industry, including growers and suppliers.
The group has focused more on business needs, such as access to banking and tax credits, while remaining neutral on legalization.
“As an industry, basically they are just trying to have the federal government respect what they are doing legally now under state law,” said Steve Fox (no relation to Morgan Fox), a lobbyist for the trade group and the Marijuana Policy Project.
Still, the grass-roots and industry interests often align. In California, he said, efforts by federal prosecutors to control medical marijuana use are “driving everyone together.”
“Politicians, starting with President Obama, will need to understand that they’re actually damaging themselves politically by taking these actions,” he said, noting that online petitions are one way for voters to express their disappointment.
The marijuana advocates said polls show that most Americans are on their side, especially younger voters.
“Our opposition is dying and those who are younger just become increasingly supportive because they know it’s not a big deal,” Steve Fox said.
Yet there is also growing opposition from groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The group hasn’t weighed in on legalization but has raised concerns about its impact on drugged driving.
“A lot of people sign petitions online who just want to smoke,” said J.T. Griffin, senior vice president for public policy at MADD. “There is a bigger policy debate that needs to be addressed before lawmakers can make a good decision.”
For the Drug Free America Foundation, legalization is out of the question.
“It is an impairing drug. People have been harmed by it. To say it is a safe drug is just another one of their big fat lies,” Calvina Fay, the group’s executive director, said of the pro-marijuana lobby.