The devout libertarian known for spending a fortune on political causes is now actively funding efforts to end federal marijuana prohibition. Here’s why pro-pot advocates in both parties are high on his support.
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.
And it’s not because he’s a pothead.
The only time the 85-year-old CEO of Koch Industries has consumed marijuana, he says, was by accident in the 1980s. He was helicopter skiing in British Columbia, and après ski, he and his friends enjoyed a few gin and tonics at dinner. For dessert, the chef brought out a plate of brownies. Koch ate one and after a while felt a little “loopy.” He doesn’t know who infused the sweets with pot, but he says he has known many successful friends—doctors, lawyers and other professionals—who have used cannabis.
Although Koch isn’t big on consuming it himself, he’s going public now with a long-held belief: Cannabis should be legal nationwide. So he’s putting his name, and nearly $25 million of his $45 billion fortune towards criminal justice reform and legalization efforts.
“It should be the individual’s choice,” says Koch from his office in Koch Industries’ sprawling granite compound in Wichita, Kansas. “[Prohibition] is counterproductive. It ruins people’s lives, creates conflict in society and is anti-progress. The whole thing never made sense to me.”
In April, Koch’s political advocacy group Americans For Prosperity, joined other organizations to form the Cannabis Freedom Alliance, whose members have already started lobbying Congress to help lift America’s federal marijuana ban. Sitting at his desk in front of an oil painting of his late father, Fred, who founded Koch Industries as an oil-and-refinery company in 1940, Koch is finally ready to talk about why he’s pushing for legalization.
As a staunch libertarian, he sees cannabis prohibition as a basic infringement on personal freedom, as well as a destructive public policy that adds to America’s mass-incarceration problem. The U.S. should have learned from the “nightmare” of alcohol prohibition a century ago, he says.
Koch is not alone in his view. Nearly 70% of Americans now believe cannabis should be federally legal. Currently, 18 states allow for adult-use and 37 have legalized medical marijuana, creating an industry that generated more than $17.5 billion in legal sales last year—a figure expected to balloon to $100 billion by 2030.
Published: July 27, 2021
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News