Billionaire and staunch libertarian Charles Koch declared his unequivocal support for federal decriminalization of cannabis for reasons that sound fairly similar to many other arguments made surrounding partisan issues: personal autonomy. While legalizing cannabis at the federal and state levels has long been a contentious subject that’s pulled and pushed by the various parties, Koch’s perspective on why it should finally happen may be just the right amount of fair and honest convincing to change many holdouts’ minds. But the 85-year-old CEO isn’t just declaring his support – he’s putting millions of his money where his mouth is.
“If you don’t like marijuana, or don’t like people doing that, and you have all these laws, how’s that working out for you?” Koch asked, before continuing, “Marijuana, as I understand it, is less addictive than alcohol. So why is alcohol legal and marijuana isn’t?”
Koch himself is not a cannabis consumer –after unknowingly ingesting a “fun” brownie in the ‘80s, he hasn’t felt the desire to try it again– so this declaration of support isn’t just so he can enjoy a toke in peace. Much of the billionaire’s efforts and funding have been focused on criminal justice reform because, like many others, he’s deeply concerned by the mass incarceration numbers in the U.S., specifically pertaining to non-violent, cannabis-related crimes. His public commentary makes it clear that he sees prohibition as an infringement on people’s personal freedoms and a destructive public policy, even mentioning how this country should have learned from the “nightmare” of alcohol prohibition in the early 20th century.
As we very well know, Koch is not a trailblazer in this endeavor. Millions of Americans and other public figures, including politicians such as Sen. Chuck Schumer, have vocalized or taken action in favor of their support for legalizing cannabis and prioritizing social justice and reform. According to the Pew Research Center in a report from April of this year, 91% of Americans believe that some form of marijuana should be legal (60% medical and recreational, 31% medical only). Based on those overwhelming numbers, Koch has picked the right pony, so to say, in terms of where to pour his funds.
Speaking of his funds, Koch is putting roughly $25 million toward the cause, which is a drop in the bucket compared to what he’s already spent and plans to continue spending in the name of federal legalization and reform. While the multi-billionaire has a long history of financially right-of-center political views, and has created an interesting reputation for himself depending on whom you ask, it seems that he’s willing to partner with anyone it takes to get things moving in what he feels is the correct direction. Federally legalizing cannabis is, as nearly everything else these days, a hyper-partisan issue, but Koch’s views on why cannabis consumption should be an individual, personal choice are genuinely convincing and thought-provoking.
“It should be the individual’s choice,” says Koch. “[Prohibition] is counterproductive. It ruins people’s lives, creates conflict in society, and is anti-progress. The whole thing never made sense to me.”
Because of his ideological nature and unbelievable influence, many are hopeful that Koch coming out as pro-cannabis and actively funding decriminalization efforts will embolden others to do the same. Sometimes, having a powerful trendsetter such as Koch speak out is just the thing people need to get on board with new ways of considering and handling issues such as these. While we all wait with bated breath and watch the legal battles of cannabis legalization unfold, it will be interesting to see how (and if) Koch’s influence sways the national audience.