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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Out-of-state groups dominate fundraising in final months of Florida's medical marijuana fight

John Morgan, the major funder of the Amendment 2 campaign, speaks at the Marijuana Business Conference this May in Orlando. At the event, he implored marijuana businesses to donate, saying they stood to gain if Florida legalized medical marijuana.

Michael Auslen | Times/Herald

John Morgan, the major funder of the Amendment 2 campaign, speaks at the Marijuana Business Conference this May in Orlando. At the event, he implored marijuana businesses to donate, saying they stood to gain if Florida legalized medical marijuana.

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November

For the last two months, most of the money fueling Florida’s medical marijuana fight hasn’t been coming from Florida families hoping for patient access to medical marijuana or anti-drug activists who worry about the impact on their home state.

Since Sept. 1, for every $1 donated to the two political committes behind the Yes and No on Amendment 2 campaigns from inside Florida, $2 has come from out-of-state.

In all, $3.7 million in donations have been made in the last two months to United for Care, the political committee supporting medical marijuana, and Drug Free Florida, the group opposing it. Of that, roughly $2.6 million has come from out-of-state donors.

Much of it can be attributed to one big donor, Las Vegas casino mogul and anti-marijuana crusader Sheldon Adelson, whose two checks totalling $1.5 million represents almost half of Drug Free Florida's funds all year.

But United for Care, too, has attracted more than $1 million from business interests and activists, particularly those in Washington, D.C., New York and Colorado.

Most of it has been from activist group New Approach PAC, but United for Care's donors include companies based in Denver and Seattle, like social media platform MassRoots, marijuana edibles and infusion company Allied Concessions Group and cannabis investors Privateer Holdings.

A few things explain this trend, but one of the most obvious is this: Florida is one of the biggest states that does not yet have marijuana. For companies in the growing marijuana industry, that could mean big profits.

If Amendment 2 passes, a market for full-strength, medical marijuana will be created in Florida, and doctors will be allowed to recommend it to patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS and other debilitating conditions.

According to cannabis industry analysts New Frontier and the Arcview Group, Florida's medical marijuana users could spend nearly $200 million by 2018. By 2020, the state could make up 14 percent of the nation's legal marijuana use.

Florida's one of the biggest prizes in this year's election for marijuana businesspeople. Just two other states are considering their first major medical marijuana law this year: North Dakota and Arkansas, and neither is nearly as large of a market as Florida.

"These people obviously have a profit motive, but they're not casual business owners," said Ben Pollara, United for Care campaign manager. "People who are in it are pretty much the true believers."

Each new state that legalizes marijuana for medical or recreational use brings more political influence and clout to the fight toward decriminalizing the industry in federal law -- especially a large, consequential swing state like Florida. And that's worth more than money alone to people in the industry.

"Marijuana is still illegal federally," Pollara said. "Everyone in this business is a federal criminal."

[Last modified: Thursday, November 3, 2016 5:07pm]

    

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