Newly sworn-in Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has chosen the former director of federal policy for the Marijuana Policy Project(MPP) as a senior counsel and policy advisor.
Dan Riffle, who most recently served as communications director to former Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and a legislative aide to former Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), will bring his expertise on health care and tax reform to the freshman congresswoman’s team at a time when her proposal to raise the top marginal tax rate is dominating headlines.
While Riffle’s focus will not be on cannabis reform—at least for the time being—it will be interesting to see whether Ocasio-Cortez will embrace the former lobbyist’s nuanced views on legalization. Both believe that marijuana should be legalized at the federal level, though Riffle has expressed concerns that reform will follow a commercial model similar to that of alcohol and tobacco.
“Legalization is inevitable,” Riffle told the International Business Times in 2015. “But [people] haven’t put time into forming an alternative to the corporate model. That is something I’d like to work on.”
Riffle said he left MPP in 2014 because of what he described as an industry takeover of the legalization movement. The national advocacy group had previously criticized large cannabis businesses for benefiting from their work but declining to pay it forward, he said. But as the industry expanded and started to contribute, it was able to “drive the agenda,” he said. The worry being that it’s increasingly driven toward corporatization.
Ocasio-Cortez, a democratic socialist, has emphasized the racial injustices of cannabis criminalization enforcement and said that a pro-legalization platform can help galvanize audiences on social media.
In one of her widely watched Instagram live videos in November, she called prohibition a “tool” of oppression against minorities that ought to be eradicated.
But what kind of legalization model she supports is yet to be seen.
For the time being, Ocasio-Cortez is invested in building a progressive coalition in the House that will tackle issues like climate change, income inequality, and immigration. But a different kind of “Green New Deal” may soon be on the horizon, and the congresswoman will have a say in what that looks like as cannabis reform moves forward in Congress.
And at the very least, it stands to reason that Riffle’s background in the marijuana advocacy realm could be of service to the new congresswoman down the line.