New marijuana legalization effort focuses on Republicans, including Utah’s Mike Lee

Weldon Angelos, Charles Koch and Snoop Dogg are behind the Cannabis Freedom Alliance

(Ken Cedeno | Pool via AP) Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill, Jan. 21, 2021, in Washington.

A new national organization has joined the political fight to legalize marijuana. The twist is the Cannabis Freedom Alliance will focus on recruiting Republicans to its cause and one of its first lobbying targets is Utah Sen. Mike Lee.

The alliance launched this week, and is an outgrowth of conversations between rap superstar Snoop Dogg, conservative billionaire Charles Koch and criminal justice reform advocate Weldon Angelos.

With Democrats in charge of the Senate and House, they believe a bill could move forward.

“We need 10 to 12 Republican senators,” Angelos told Politico. “With Koch’s influence, I think that’s likely a possibility.”

The group will make their pitch to libertarian-leaning conservatives, like Lee and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., first.

Angelos and Lee have quite the history.

A one-time Utah music producer, Angelos was sentenced to 55 years in prison for selling marijuana while in possession of firearms. Lee and other reformers took up Angelos’ case, pressed for his release and criticized minimum mandatory sentencing laws. Angelos served 13 years before he got out of prison in 2016 and has since become a reform advocate for the criminal justice system and drug laws, starting The Weldon Project.

And Lee, along with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., successfully pushed former President Donald Trump to pardon Angelos. Angelos received the news in late December when he got a call from Utah’s senior senator.

“This made my Christmas and my year,” Angelos said at the time. “It’s an amazing feeling to put everything that happened to me in the past without that felony conviction.”

Angelos, who splits his time between Utah and Los Angeles, will now lobby his political benefactor to change federal marijuana laws. The activist will have support from the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, including its Utah chapter.

“People shouldn’t be criminals for the possession of a drug that some use as a medicine,” said Heather Andrews, state director of Americans for Prosperity Utah. “More and more conservatives are getting it.”

She hasn’t reached out to Lee yet, but plans to.

Utah is one of 36 states that has a medical marijuana law. And 15 states allow adults to use cannabis recreationally, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Lee has yet to respond to a request for comment on the legalization effort.

In 2019, while visiting with Utah House Democrats, Lee said he could support reclassifying marijuana from a Schedule 1 to a Schedule 2 drug, which would allow more research.

Keeping cannabis as a Schedule 1 controlled substance is probably not realistic,” he said.

He’s also expressed an openness to changing banking law, making it easier for financial institutions to complete transactions with marijuana companies legally operating in states. And he has sponsored legislation to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has said he’ll unveil legislation to legalize marijuana and promised to bring it up for a vote. President Joe Biden didn’t support efforts to legalize the drug during the campaign and the White House has said his position hasn’t changed.