Why Billionaire Charles Koch Thinks Cannabis Prohibition Is 'Counterproductive' - And Is Spending Millions To Support Legalization

This article was originally published in August 2021.

More and more powerful people, whether because of their wealth, celebrity status or their positions as corporate leaders and politicians, have begun to express their views in support of ending marijuana prohibition. 

One such person is Charles Koch, a billionaire businessman and philanthropist who shared his views on cannabis legalization and spoke openly of his support in a recent Forbes interview by Will Yakowicz.  

Koch, a passionate libertarian, has already donated a fortune to various political causes and is now spending impressive sums to support cannabis advocates who are pushing for federal legalization.  

“Depending on whom you ask, Charles Koch is a titan of industry, dark money political bogeyman or the Marcus Aurelius of the libertarian movement. But soon Koch might be known as the billionaire who persuaded Republican and Democratic holdouts to legalize cannabis at the federal level,” writes Forbes. 

The Question Is...Why? 

It is certainly not because he enjoys consuming cannabis from time to time, on the contrary, the only time the 85-year-old CEO of Koch Industries ever tried weed was by accident. It was the ‘80s when Koch was helicopter skiing in British Columbia. While dining with his friends, dessert was served: brownies. No one mentioned to Koch that they were made with cannabis. He ate one, then a bit later felt a little “loopy,” he told Forbes.

This indicates that Koch is getting on board because of his Libertarian philosophy.

“It should be the individual’s choice,” Koch said“[Prohibition] is counterproductive. It ruins people’s lives, creates conflict in society and is anti-progress. The whole thing never made sense to me.”

For Koch, marijuana prohibition is a disruption of essential human rights and “personal freedom.” He said prohibition also exacerbates U.S.'s mass incarceration problem. According to Koch, the country should have taken the lesson from the “nightmare” of alcohol prohibition.

Approximately 70% of Americans agree with this view. Eighteen states have legalized recreational marijuana and as many as 37 states now have legal medical marijuana programs.

‘These Laws Block Out Millions Of People’

Koch has a couple of questions for US politicians who are against it: 

“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? Marijuana, as I understand it, is less addictive than alcohol. So why is alcohol legal and marijuana isn’t?”

Koch is using almost $25 million of his $45 billion fortune to influence criminal-justice reform and legalization by the end of the year. Though it's possible he may end up spending around $70 million for the cause, as this is the amount he already spent on these issues over the past two years.

In April, Koch’s political advocacy group, Americans For Prosperity teamed up with criminal reform advocate Weldon Angelos to create the Cannabis Freedom Alliance, which supports 

cannabis-related causes, including lobbying Congress to end marijuana prohibition.

By criminalizing [cannabis], it has huge negative manifestations, not only for the individuals who get trapped in that system but also for society,” Koch told Forbes. “We want a society that empowers people to realize their potential and contribute, but with these laws, you block out millions of people.”

Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos And Other Billionaires Who Favor Cannabis Legalization 

The list of billionaires known to support the cause in one way or another includes:

  • Jeff Bezos, former CEO of Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), whose net worth is estimated at $208.3 billion. This June, before Bezos stepped down from his position, Amazon came out in support of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2021 (MORE Act) and told the world it will no longer test for marijuana for most of its job positions. More recently, the corporate giant discussed cannabis in Washington where it lobbied for legalization.
  • Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors TSLA, whose net worth is projected to be around $161.3 billion, smoked a joint on Joe Rogan’s podcast and then tweeted that he was “considering taking Tesla private at $420.”
  • Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft MSFT with a net worth of around $130 billion, announced in 2014 he had voted to legalize cannabis in his home state of Washington.

The power of celebrities is also influential in the legalization arena with the likes of Carlos Santana, Jim Belushi, Jay-Z, Gwyneth Paltrow and Chelsea Handler to name a few. 

To philosophically express his view on federal cannabis legalization as the beginning of the end of the war on drugs, Charles Koch aptly paraphrased 19th-century French economist Frédéric Bastiat: “For a law to be respected, it must be respectable.”

See also: How to Invest in Cannabis Stocks

Photo: Courtesy of Creative Commons

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