Sunday, April 22, 2018
Politics

John Morgan 'prepared to invest $100M' in medical marijuana

John Morgan spent nearly $7 million pushing two statewide ballot initiatives to expand medical marijuana throughout the state of Florida.

But that's a drop in the bucket compared to what the wealthy Orlando attorney and possible gubernatorial candidate says he's prepared to invest in the industry now that it's about to explode.

In a series of emails with the Miami Herald, Morgan said he intends to plunge up to $100 million into "the right opportunities." He also acknowledged that he's interested in owning a stake in a state-licensed dispensing organization, though he said he's not yet invested in any cannabis companies.

"I am prepared to invest significant monies in this industry and I plan to," he wrote. "I have learned a great deal about the miracles of marijuana over the last five years. And what better person than me to be involved?"

Morgan has been among the loudest voices advocating for medical marijuana in Florida. He spent about $6.8 million on the United for Care campaigns to pass a constitutional cannabis amendment in 2014 and 2016, and is among those calling on lawmakers to return to Tallahassee this summer after efforts to pass legislation regulating the voter-approved program fell apart during the session.

But are Morgan's financial interests influencing his public positions? Was his political investment a down payment on a bigger business plan?

Absolutely not, Morgan says. But speculation has swirled for years.

For instance, in 2014, as Morgan began to drop millions into his first statewide campaign, political operative and South Floridian Roger Stone accused him of trying to buy his way into a potentially lucrative market through campaign contributions. Morgan, meanwhile, acknowledges that he has been approached about investing in Chestnut Hill Tree Farm, a nursery that is licensed to grow and sell marijuana in Florida.

The company's assets are currently for sale to a Canadian cannabis cultivator, although that deal — which is alive and well according to an attorney representing the buyer — is wrapped up in a lawsuit among investors.

"I have been approached by many companies here and in the U.S. and have and will continue to consider them," Morgan said, providing the Herald with a random Arkansas businessman's Monday evening voicemail business pitch to make his point. "Chestnut Hill is one of them and continues to be on my radar. I would be interested (in) investing if the valuation is one I think fair. And if it becomes available. Time will tell."

Morgan was also heavily involved during the final days of the session in a debate over whether the state should cap the number of retail shops any licensed distributor can own and operate. He was against limitations, while Ben Pollara, the political consultant who ran the campaigns that Morgan bankrolled, was for them — resulting in a very public divorce and contributing to the death of legislation.

In the fallout, Morgan accused Pollara of secretly lobbying on behalf of outside clients trying to break into Florida's market. Pollara said he only lobbied or worked on behalf of advocacy organization.

On the other hand, rumors emerged recently that Morgan had purchased a stake in licensed operator Surterra after reports surfaced that Morgan and Pollara's relationship began to tatter during a contentious phone call with Surterra Holdings CEO Jake Bergmann on the line. But Bergmann told the Miami Herald that Morgan isn't an investor.

And Morgan insists that his business interests weren't the genesis of his political campaigns and aren't driving his stance on marijuana policy. If they were, he says, he would sit back and watch the Florida Department of Health set the rules for Florida's expanded medical cannabis system, which is what will happen if the Legislature doesn't reconvene to craft a bill.

"I don't care how it is implemented. I don't care how many licenses there are," he wrote. "I would prefer that the amendment is implemented first. If I had an interest in one of the existing (licensed operators) it would be in my best interest to have no special session."

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