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The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is in trouble. Philanthropic support is at an all-time low due to political and economic challenges. The marijuana advocacy group, which aims to end cannabis criminalization, is considering merging with NORML to alleviate its issues.

MPP Key Changes

The MPP has changed in the past few months. The organization’s executive director, Tori Hutchinson, has resigned. She was replaced by long-time employee Matthew Schweich.

The marijuana advocacy group has not gone public with the news of the staff changes because they are still working on restructuring. In the meantime, they are suspending their ballot campaign due to financial issues.

The organization is also talking the NORML about a potential merger to move their cause forward, but nothing has been finalized.

About the MPP Marijuana Advocacy Group

The MPP was established in 1995 before marijuana legalization happened in the United States. Since then, the marijuana advocacy group has put marijuana reform proposals on the ballot. It has worked with lawmakers to pass marijuana legislation throughout the country.

Schweich reveals that their accomplishments may have done more harm than good.

“I do believe that we were victims of our success,” he told the media. “We’re highly effective. We passed so many laws through so many states and so many ballot initiatives. And people just got used to our success.”

He also stated that there is no fear of the marijuana advocacy group shutting down. He said they are in a “strong position long-term to maintain its current operations”. He noted that the restructuring will “ensure that we can operate effectively for years to come.”

The Reason Behind MPP’s Shakeup

So if MPP is in a strong position to endure long-term, what’s the reason behind the shakeup?

In the past, philanthropic donors helped the agency by funding ballot campaigns. The legislature was approved, and the industry was thriving. Donors took that as a sign that the marijuana advocacy group no longer needed as much support.

Some question whether cannabis businesses that became successful due to MPP efforts should step up and donate in the absence of philanthropic donors. While some companies are giving, it has been difficult for the agency to get the funding they need given their large scale and the current fundraising landscape.

The company is also suffering from a lack of grassroots funding that comes directly from the public. Now that many people have the right to use marijuana, they are wondering, “Why should I give?” They may not realize how important funding is at this time.

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Currently, the government is considering rescheduling marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule III drug. Doing so would increase access and research opportunities. But MPP and other advocacy groups need funding to move this bill forward.

While companies could step in to replace grassroots donors, they are also facing financial issues due to limited access to financial services and the 280E tax penalty which forbids them from deducting expenses on their taxes due to the marijuana’s schedule I status.

There’s also a lot of work to be done in the social equity aspect which requires funding.

Tori Hutchinson explained, “At the end of the day, we still have an industry that is not as inclusive to Black and brown folks as it should be. We still have people living every single day with the remnants of the war on drugs on their records and what it did to communities, whole swaths of communities.

“And we have a reality right now where the benefit of stigma coming down is not translating into an increased understanding of how we need to continue this work.”

Hutchinson stepped down from her role in the marijuana advocacy group due to funding restraints. However, the cause is still near and dear to her heart. The organization is hoping she will return one day. “The door is never going to be closed for me,” she responded.

The MPP NORML Merger

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MPP has turned to another marijuana advocacy group, NORML, to discuss a possible merger that might ease their financial crisis. The discussions have occurred at a board level only and are considered “preliminary”.

“We are having very early discussions with NORML about various ways that we might partner with them to achieve our mutual cannabis reform goals,” said chair of MPP Board of Directors Sal Pace. “We’re considering options for potential collaboration, but there’s nothing new to share right now.”

A merger could benefit both groups. NORML has a grassroots appeal and vast contacts. Their reputation could complement MPP which is known to be more conservative and politically connected.

But overall, talks of a merger spell trouble for the marijuana fundraising industry. It shows the financial struggle that many nonprofits are dealing with.

NORML is also facing issues as they have not yet filled an executive director position that opened when Erik Altieri left in March. The marijuana advocacy group is considering who should fill his shoes as they navigate the complicated policies that exist.

The groups have a history of past collaborations. However, some controversy arose when Rob Kampia left NORML to establish MPP in the mid-90s.

Hutchinson spoke for the marijuana advocacy group stressing their need for ongoing support.

“We still need engagement. We still need grassroots donors, small donors, philanthropic donors, industry folks, and people who are trying to get into the industry. We need people to understand that there are still markets to open. There are still laws to change. There’s still lots to say. Cannabis is nowhere near done.”